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Baehr v. Miike

A Landmark Ruling--and A Reaction

Judge Chang, as the sole judge and "trier of fact" in this case, had full power to decide its outcome. He held that the state department of health's use of 572-1 did establish a sex-based classification which denied gay and lesbian couples the rights and privileges accorded to heterosexual couples. In Dean v. District of Columbia, a 1995 case in which the District of Columbia Court of Appeals supported the District's refusal to issue a marriage license to a gay couple, one judge who dissented in part wrote that

if the government cannot cite actual prejudice to the public majority from a change in the law to allow same-sex marriages . . . then the public majority will not have a sound basis for claiming a compelling, or even a substantial, state interest in withholding the marriage statute from same-sex couples; a mere feeling of distaste or even revulsion at what someone is or does . . . cannot justify inherently discriminatory legislation . . .
The defendant, Judge Chang wrote, had failed in the present case to show compelling evidence that such "prejudice or harm" to the majority would result from allowing same-sex marriages. Even if he had established this, however, the defendant had not shown sufficient proof that 572-1 was "narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessary abridgements of constitutional rights."

Hence the circuit court ruled the sex-based classification in 572-1 unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of Article I, section 5 of the Hawaii Constitution. The defendant and his agents were enjoined from denying any marriage applications solely on the basis of the sex of both applicants. Finally, all costs of the trial were, to the extent permitted by law, imposed against the defendant and awarded in favor of the plaintiffs.

The victory for the plaintiffs in Baehr, however, was only another step in a long process. Because of the massive upheaval that would undoubtedly ensue from his ruling, Judge Chang stayed enforcement of the judgment pending the state's appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court. The reason for this was that if the high court reversed the ruling, marriages would be rendered at least temporarily invalid until the case could be decided. The fight continued in the legislature, where various measures both upholding and challenging gay marriages were raised, and in November of 1998, Hawaii voters were presented with a ballot for a proposed constitutional amendment which would allow the legislature to reserve legal marriages to opposite-sex couples. As for the state's appeal in Baehr v. Miike, as of mid-1998, all briefs had been submitted to the state supreme court. People in Hawaii, and in the rest of the nation, awaited its ruling.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentBaehr v. Miike - Same Sex Marriages, The Burden Of Proof Is On The State, Both Sides Marshal Their Experts