Marriage rights for same-sex couples have come a long way with the monumental U.S. Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges. But before Obergefell was decided there were smaller milestones leading up to the decision. The first major same-sex marriage case was Baehr v. Lewin.
The Hawaii case of Baehr v. Lewin (later became known as Baehr v. Miike) was the first major judicial victory for same-sex marriage activists and dated back to 1993. Nina Baehr sued the state of Hawaii, alleging that the state's refusal to issue her and her same-sex partner a marriage license amounted to illegal discrimination. The Hawaii Supreme Court said her case had merit.
The Court Drew an Analogy to the Marriage Racial Discrimination Case
The Court drew an analogy to Loving v. Virginia, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws based on racial classifications were unconstitutional. The Hawaiian Court similarly found that the law prohibiting same-sex marriage discriminated on the basis of sex and therefore violated the Hawaiian Constitution.
Under the state's Equal Rights Amendment, the state would have to establish a compelling state interest supporting such a ban, a fairly strict standard. Although the court did not directly rule that the state's prohibition of same-sex marriages was illegal, it left little doubt of its skepticism regarding the proposition. The court remanded the case to a lower court to determine whether the state could prove this compelling state interest in prohibiting same-sex marriage.
Baehr's Impact with the Full Faith And Credit Clause
For the first time, a state Supreme Court had ruled that gay couples might have the right to marry. Although its immediate impact was only in Hawaii, the decision in Baehr v. Lewin heartened gay rights supporters and discouraged opponents throughout the country. One reason for these responses was the Full Faith and Credit Clause, found in Article IV, Section 1, of the United States Constitution: "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each state to the public Acts, Records and judicial Proceedings of every other state."
The Clause requires states to grant full weight to legal actions in other states, including marriages, divorces, and other family-related situations. Both opponents and proponents of gay marriage realized that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution might mean that if same-sex marriages were legal in Hawaii, the marriages would be entitled to legal recognition in other states as well.
Have Questions About Same-Sex Marriage? Talk to an Attorney
The landmark decisions legalizing same-sex marriage nationally were a seismic event in family law and still face staunch opposition in some parts of the country. If you have questions about what these rulings mean for you, or believe your rights are being violated, you may want to speak with a family law attorney with experience handling legal matters affecting same-sex couples.