Beyond Rational Relations: The Constitutional Infirmities of Anti-Gay Partnership Laws under the Equal Protection Clause

By Howenstine, David W. | Washington Law Review, May 2006 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Beyond Rational Relations: The Constitutional Infirmities of Anti-Gay Partnership Laws under the Equal Protection Clause


Howenstine, David W., Washington Law Review


Abstract: Anti-gay partnership laws prevent state and local governments from granting rights, benefits, and obligations associated with marriage to same-sex couples. Fifteen states have anti-gay partnership laws that prohibit the creation of civil unions, domestic partnerships, or specific partnership rights for gay couples. Although enacted under legitimate state authority, these laws come into conflict with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution because they isolate gay citizens for special disadvantages and burdens within the traditional political processes. Under equal protection analysis, a law that neither burdens a fundamental right nor targets a protected class will be presumed valid if it bears a rational relation to a legitimate governmental interest. However, the U.S. Supreme Court uses a more searching form of rational-basis review when examining laws that exhibit a desire to harm politically unpopular groups like gay citizens. In Romer v. Evans, the Court held that a constitutional amendment prohibiting special rights for gay citizens violated equal protection principles because its extensive breadth could not be rationally justified by legitimate state interests. This Comment argues that certain anti-gay partnership laws similarly violate equal protection principles because the sweeping harm they cause to gay citizens cannot be supported by legitimate state interests in marriage and the family. By contrast, other anti-gay partnership laws likely survive equal protection analysis because their more narrow prohibition of only comprehensive partnership rights corresponds more directly to the potentially legitimate state interests underlying the decision to bar same-sex couples from marrying. Ultimately, the Equal Protection Clause resists all laws that isolate gay citizens for special disadvantages, but requires only the invalidation of anti-gay partnership laws that cause broad and sweeping harm.

The contemporary political struggle over marriage equality in the United States has been fast and fierce.1 As gay, lesbian, and bisexual citizens2 gain new access to marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnership benefits across the nation,3 conservative groups seek to solidify the status quo by passing restrictive marriage laws.4 Recently, fifteen states have used their authority over marriage laws to enact anti-gay partnership laws that prohibit for same-sex couples the establishment of civil unions, domestic partnerships, and other rights traditionally reserved to marriage.5

Anti-gay partnership laws prevent state and local governments from creating partnership rights for same-sex couples.6 Unlike laws that restrict marriage to a union between a man and a woman, anti-gay partnership laws bar governmental action with respect to a wide range of potential rights.7 This Comment distinguishes anti-gay partnership laws based on the scope of the laws and on the citizens targeted by the laws.8 The scope of anti-gay partnership laws ranges from Class I laws, which prohibit any and all same-sex partnership rights, to Class II laws, which ban only comprehensive same-sex partnership rights.9 Anti-gay partnership laws target either same-sex couples in particular or unmarried couples in general.10

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws.11 Yet this command must co-exist with the practical necessity of legislative classifications.12 Accordingly, the U.S. Supreme Court has fashioned a three-tiered system of equal protection analysis that defers to legislative judgment if a law bears a rational relation to a legitimate governmental interest, provided that the law does not burden a fundamental right or target a protected class.13 However, the Court has deviated from this system and applied a heightened form of rational-basis review in a line of cases involving laws that display a desire to harm politically unpopular groups, such as gay citizens.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Beyond Rational Relations: The Constitutional Infirmities of Anti-Gay Partnership Laws under the Equal Protection Clause
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?