Federal Court in Hawaii: No Constitutional Right to Redefine Marriage

There has been a well-publicized string of cases lately in which federal courts have struck down marriage laws like the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. It remains to be seen whether a decision issued yesterday by a federal District Court in Hawaii will be treated as newsworthy.

In this case, the court comprehensively rejected the claim that the U.S. Constitution mandates same-sex marriage in the State of Hawaii. From the court’s synopsis (I’ve omitted the citations):

Carefully describing the right at issue, as required by both the Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit, the right Plaintiffs seek to exercise is the right to marry someone of the same-sex. The right to marry someone of the same-sex, is not “objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and thus it is not a fundamental right.

***

Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden [of showing that Hawaii had no rational basis for its marriage definition].

Specifically, the legislature could rationally conclude that defining marriage as a union between a man and woman provides an inducement for opposite-sex couples to marry, thereby decreasing the percentage of children accidently conceived outside of a stable, long-term relationship. The Supreme Court has stated that a classification subject to rational basis review will be upheld when “the inclusion of one group promotes a legitimate governmental purpose, and the addition of other groups would not.” It is undisputed opposite-sex couples can naturally procreate and same-sex couples cannot. Thus, allowing opposite-sex couples to marry furthers this interest and allowing same-sex couples to marry would not do so.

The legislature could also rationally conclude that other things being equal, it is best for children to be raised by a parent of each sex. Under rational basis review, as long as the rationale for a classification is at least debatable, the classification is constitutional. Both sides presented evidence on this issue and both sides pointed out flaws in their opponents’ evidence. Thus, the Court concludes this rationale is at least debatable and therefore sufficient.

Finally, the state could rationally conclude that it is addressing a divisive social issue with caution.

What explains the different outcome? As a legal matter, it was more careful attention to the actual Constitution and relevant precedent. This case may also be a better indicator of the validity of these claims. The other cases have been brought in carefully selected jurisdictions by national activist groups with any eye on strategy. The Hawaii case seems to have developed somewhat spontaneously and so may give us a better indication of what courts might do that are not predisposed to the same-sex marriage conclusion.

Dale Schowengerdt and the attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom are to be congratulated for stepping in to defend the case when the governor refused to do so.

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