Raoul (who was 18) wanted to
marry Maria (who was 15). They lived together and had a child (Ricardo).
However, in order to get a marriage license, they needed parental
consent, which Maria's mother would
Maria's mother wanted to
continue getting welfare benefits from her minor child, and would lose
the benefits if Maria married.
Raoul, Maria, and Ricardo sued
(in Federal Court) to have the New York parental consent requirement
declared and unconstitutional violation of due process.
In New York, parental
consent was required for those under
Another underage couple (Pedro
(17) and Cristina (15 and pregnant)) intervened to turn this into a class
The Trial Court found for New
York and dismissed the suit.
The Trial Court found that
while minors do have constitutional rights, courts have long recognized
the government's power to make adjustments to the constitutional rights
For example, children can't
get driver's licenses or buy alcohol.
The Court found that the
right of minors to marry is not a fundamental right, and that the courts do not need to apply strict
scrutiny. All that is required is
that New York have a rational basis for making the law.
The rational basis test only asks whether the governmental action at
issue is a rational means to an end that may be legitimately pursued by
The Court found that New
York had a rational basis for the
The State has the
paternalistic power to promote the welfare of children who lack the
capacity to act in their own best interest. The State interests in
mature decision-making and in preventing unstable marriages are
legitimate under its parents patriae
In addition, the Court
found that the State has a legitimate interest in supporting the
fundamental privacy right of a parent to act in what the parent
perceives to be the best interest of the child free from State court
Raoul et. al. argued that
the courts were in a better position to determine maturity on a
case-by-case basis because they were disinterested parties. But the
Court found that in most cases, "the natural bonds of affection lead
parents to act in the best interest of their children."
The Court found that they
weren't denying Raoul and Maria's
rights, they were simply delaying those rights. As soon as they turned 18 they'd be allowed to
marry anyone they want.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
Maria did not argue equal
protection, right to privacy, or right to free association. All of those could theoretically been the
basis for finding that she has a right to marry.
She could have also gone to
another State where the age of consent was lower.
Under the historical common-law,
the age of consent for marriage was 14 for males and 12 for females.
Children as young as 7 were presumed to have the capacity to consent to a