Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

When Parental and Minors' Rights Conflict: Minors' Constitutional Rights & Gay-Straight Alliances

Academic journal article The Journal of Gender, Race and Justice

When Parental and Minors' Rights Conflict: Minors' Constitutional Rights & Gay-Straight Alliances

Article excerpt


As a middle school student in West Virginia, Bryan Chinn felt like a popular child.1 However, everything changed after he shared his sexual orientation with friends and family.2 He lived with his grandmother who, after finding out that he was gay, kicked him out of her home and threw his clothes out the window.3 Chinn moved in with friends and stayed out of school for a few months, but eventually returned with the goal of helping others understand him.4 The challenges facing homosexual teens are not limited to the home, and minors have faced equally strong reactions in more public environments. In response to the possible formation of a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at the local high school, a Rockton, Illinois parent stated, "[i]t [homosexuality] spread and spread ever since and now they are bringing it into the high school as [if] it's perfectly all right, and it says in here [in the Bible] it was Adam and Eve [sic] it wasn't Adam and Steve."5 As these experiences suggest, homosexual minors and minors who support them may not find support at home, which would make it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain parental consent to join a GSA.

State legislatures have attempted to address the controversy surrounding GSAs and their presence in schools. The most recent response is requiring parental consent for membership of student groups in an effort to alleviate parental concerns.6 If a minor cannot obtain parental consent and wishes to join a GSA anyway, this raises a legal issue: does the minor have a right to join a GSA that supersedes a parent's right to determine how to best raise his or her child? The extent to which minors' legal rights are independent of parental rights fluctuates as societal views of minor competency change, and courts have not provided a clear picture of what rights minors hold when parents object. If minors' rights could supersede parental rights in deciding whether to join a GSA, even though state and parental interests align in this context, then legislatures could not require parental consent for students to join a GSA without providing minors with a means to overrule a parental veto. If minors wish to challenge their parents' objection to them joining a GSA before reaching the state-defined majority age, minors should be granted the opportunity to demonstrate that they are capable of making a mature decision or that the decision is in their best interests.

This Note discusses the interaction of state, parental, and minors' rights and interests, and argues that legislatures must provide minors with a judicial bypass. Part II describes the development of parental and minors' rights, as well as the controversy surrounding, and the legal basis for, GSAs. Finally, Part III examines the issues that courts face when weighing parents' rights, states' interests, and minors' rights and interests.


The United States Supreme Court has a long history of supporting parental rights over state laws and, in the 1920s, the Court declared that the parent-child relationship is a liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment. 7 This decision provided parents with a great deal of freedom to decide what is best for their children.8 However, the Court has allowed minors to exercise constitutional rights independently if minors can demonstrate that they can make an intelligent decision or that the decision is in their best interests.9

A. Minors ' Limited Success in the Courts

During the early twentieth century, the Supreme Court laid the foundation for parental rights as they are known today, starting with Meyer v. Nebraska and Pierce v. Society of Sisters. 10 The Court struck down the state laws at issue in those cases, holding that those laws restricted parents' ability to direct their child's education." In Meyer, a parochial school teacher taught a class in German, which violated a Nebraska statute that prohibited teaching children younger than eighth grade in a language other than English. …

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