Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs were prevented from entering into marriage because a New York law required minors to obtain parental consent prior to marriage. Plaintiffs brought suit claiming the law violated the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Because of the unique position between minors and marriage, the law is examined under a rational relationship test rather than strict scrutiny.
Proposed plaintiff-intervenors Pedro Doe, 17, and Christina Coe, 15, reside in the home of Pedro’s father and step-mother. Christina is eight months pregnant with Pedro’s child. Christina’s mother refused a Christina’s request to marry Pedro, and arranged for Christina to have an abortion. Christina refused to do so, and consequently her mother told her she wished to have nothing more to do with her and was leaving the country to return to the Dominican Republic.
Issue. Does the law requiring parental consent to marry deprive Plaintiffs of the liberty guaranteed them by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution?
Held. The law is constitutional because the State has a legitimate interest in protecting minors from immature decision making.
Previous case law has recognized a constitutional liberty interest in marriage, but has not addressed the marriages of minors. The constitutional rights of children cannot be equated with adults for three reasons: a) the peculiar vulnerability of children; (b) the inability to make critical decisions in an informed and mature matter; (c) the importance of the parental role in child-rearing.
This law should not be examined under a strict scrutiny standard, but rather it must be determined if there is a rational relationship between the means chosen and the legitimate state interests advanced. The parent consent requirement ensures that at least one mature person will participate in the marriage decision. Because of this and minors’ lack of experience, perspective, and judgment, the law is rationally related to a legitimate state interest.
Plaintiffs also allege that the courts as a non-interested party would be in a better position to judge than parents that are potentially biased. However, the law assumes that parents will act in the best interests of their children. Plaintiffs also claim that this law should be analogized with contraception and abortion laws, and that the law denies them the means with which to legitimize their children. However, this ignores the fact that the law is only a postponement to the right to marry.
Discussion. The court applied a rational relationship test to the New York law rather than strict scrutiny because the rights involved were those of minors.