Singer v. Hara
11 Wn.App. 247, 522 P.2d 1187 (1974)
Singer and Barwick wanted to
get married. They applied for a license in Washington and were denied...
...based on the fact that
they were both male.
Singer and Barwick sued to
compel the county to issue them a marriage license.
The Trial Court denied them a
license, since Washington law explicitly prohibited same-sex marriage.
Singer and Barwick argued
that the Statute prohibiting same-sex marriage was a violation of the
Washington Constitution (as well as the US Constitution) because it denied
equal rights on the basis of sex.
Washington argued that it
didn't discriminate on the basis of sex because it forbid both males and females from marrying someone of the same
sex. See, totally equal!
The Washington Appellate Court
The Washington Appellate
Court found marriage his historically defined as "one man and one
woman." Therefore it would be impossible to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, because they
could not fit the definition.
It would be akin to going
to the DMV and trying to get a car registration for your bicycle. You
can't do it because a bike isn't a car.
The Court distinguished Loving
v. Virginia (388 U.S. 1 (1967)),
because as a man and a woman, Mr. and Mrs. Loving could meet the
statutory definition of marriage, even though they were of different
"There is no analogous
sexual classification involved in the instant case because Singer and
Barwick are not being denied entry into the marriage relationship
because of their sex; rather, they are being denied because of the
recognized definition of that relationship as one which may be entered
into only by two persons who are members of the opposite sex."
The Court found that there
was no violation of the Washington Equal Rights Amendment because that
only applies when an individual can show that they have been denied a
right on the basis of their sex. Singer and Barwick cannot show they are
being denied a right because the right they are seeking does not exist.
"In substance, the
relationship proposed by Singer and Barwick does not authorize the
issuance of a marriage license because what they propose is not a
The Court applied a rational
basis test for review, which only
requires the State to show that the law is a rational means to an end
that may be legitimately pursued by government.
Singer and Barwick argued
for a strict scrutiny review, but
the Court found that homosexuals were not a suspect class.
Basically, this case said that
as long as you define the term marriage as only being between 'one man and one woman', then all the
constitutional issues become irrelevant because it becomes impossible for
two members of the same-sex to meet the definition, and therefore they
could never be granted the status.
They aren't being denied the
right to marriage because of their sex, they are being denied the right
to marriage because it is impossible for them to meet the definition of
See Baehr v. Lewin (74 Haw. 530 (1993)), which said that if
marriage is not statutorily defined as being only between one man and one
women, then the State must show a compelling reason for denying the right
(aka strict scrutiny).
Since the Baehr decision, a lot of States have modified their
Constitutions to create statutory definitions of marriage, which ended a
number of legal challenges.
To make up for it, some
States have also enacted laws to create civil unions or domestic partnerships to allow same-sex couples to have some of the
benefits available to married couples.
Massachusetts became the
first State to allow same sex marriage after their ballot initiative to
add the statutory definition of marriage to the State Constitution
See Goodrich v.
Department of Pub. Health (440
Mass. 309 (2003)).