Monday, August 23, 2010

Baker v. Nelson

Baker v. Nelson, 291 Minn. 310 (1971)

CASE: Male companions applied for and were denied a marriage license on the grounds that they were of the same sex.

FACTS: Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell made an application for a marriage license with the respondent, who is the clerk of Hennepin County District Court. They were denied a license on the grounds that they were not man and woman, but man and man. The trial court ruled that the respondent was not required to issue a marriage license and specifically directed that a marriage license not be issued to them. The couple appealed.


1. The absence of an express statutory prohibition against same-sex marriages evinces a legislative intent to authorize such marriages.
2. The law is unconstitutional because it (a) denies petitioners a fundamental right guaranteed by the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, arguably made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, and (b) petitioners are deprived of liberty and property without due process and are denied the equal protection of the laws, both guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

STATE ARGUES: Probably that the state has a compelling interest in prohibiting homosexual marriages, that the state has the power to regulate marriage.

COURT SAYS: Affirms the lower court ruling, denying the men a marriage license.

HOLDING: State did not deprive a gay couple of liberty or property without due process or of equal protection when it prohibited them from obtaining a marriage license on the basis of their sex.


* The legislature did not intend to permit same-sex marriages by not specifically outlawing them, as evidenced by the use of heterosexual words like "husband and wife" and "bride and groom" in the laws it passed governing the instutition.
* The point of marriage is procreation, a fact that is as old as Genesis.
* There is no irrational discrimination against homosexuals because of their classification in the statute, even though the state does not require heterosexual married couples to have a proved capacity or declared willingness to procreate ("abstract symmetry" is not demanded by the Fourteenth Amendment).

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