June 25, 2015
At this writing, we are awaiting an imminent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on a set of cases involving a claim that the Constitution requires states to permit civil marriages between persons of the same sex.
However, several Supreme Courts (state courts, that is) have already rejected similar arguments to those offered in Obergefell v. Hodges. Today, I present Part 3 of a four-part series with key excerpts from those decisions. Part 1 featured the earliest such decision, Baker v. Nelson (Minnesota, 1971). Part 2 featured the decision of Hernandez v. Robles (New York, 2006).
Today, we look at excerpts from Andersen v. King County, a 2006 decision by the Supreme Court in the State of Washington (legal citations are omitted or abbreviated).
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that individuals have a “fundamental right” to marry, as a “liberty” interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Advocates of redefining marriage argue that this “right” necessarily includes the right “to marry the person of their choice,” even if that person is of the same sex. The Washington court responded:
Nearly all United States Supreme Court decisions declaring marriage to be a fundamental right expressly link marriage to fundamental rights of procreation, childbirth, abortion, and child-rearing. In Skinner v. Oklahoma, (1942), involving invalidation of a nonconsensual sterilization statute, the Court said “[m]arriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race.” In Loving [v. Virginia, 1967], the Court said that “[m]arriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival” (quoting Skinner). In Zablocki [v. Redhail, 1978], the Court invalidated on equal protection and due process grounds a statute that prohibited marriage for any resident behind in child support obligations. The Court noted that
[i]t is not surprising that the decision to marry has been placed on the same level of importance as decisions relating to procreation, childbirth, child rearing, and family relationships. . . . [I]t would make little sense to recognize a right of privacy with respect to other matters of family life and not with respect to the decision to enter the relationship that is the foundation of the family in our society.
The Court also quoted the statements made in Skinner and Loving. See also, Maynard v. Hill, (1888) (marriage is “the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress”).
This procreation emphasis is in contrast to the more adult-centered view of marriage promoted by those who would redefine marriage. In a footnote, the court declared that:
. . . the right to marry is not grounded in the State’s interest in promoting loving, committed relationships. While desirable, nowhere in any marriage statute of this state has the legislature expressed this goal.
Like each of the supreme courts that have upheld one-man, one-woman marriage, the Washington court said that allowing infertile heterosexual couples to marry does not undermine the argument that the definition of marriage is rooted in interests related to procreation:
. . . [A]s Skinner, Loving, and Zablocki indicate, marriage is traditionally linked to procreation and survival of the human race. Heterosexual couples are the only couples who can produce biological offspring of the couple. And the link between opposite-sex marriage and procreation is not defeated by the fact that the law allows opposite-sex marriage regardless of a couple’s willingness or ability to procreate. The facts that all opposite-sex couples do not have children and that single-sex couples raise children and have children with third party assistance or through adoption do not mean that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples lacks a rational basis. Such over- or under-inclusiveness does not defeat finding a rational basis.
For more information on the legal arguments regarding the redefinition of marriage see: “Marriage at the Supreme Court: Why One-Man, One-Woman State Laws Remain Constitutional.”