Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2004

Abstract

Public debate about same-sex marriage has spectacularly intensified in the wake of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.1 But amid the twisted faces, shouts, and murmurs surrounding that decision, a bit of old-fashioned common-lawmaking has been lost. Some have criticized the Goodridge court for its apparently result-oriented approach to the question of whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the commonwealth may deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.2 Others have defended the decision, both on the court's own rational basis terms and on other grounds, including sex discrimination and substantive due process. 3 This Comment contends that both sides are partly right. I join those commentators who find Goodridge's reasoning flawed but its outcome correct.4 Where I part ways is in recognizing the vital importance but untapped potential of the Supreme Court's decision in Turner v. Safley.5 The Turner Court held unconstitutional a Missouri prison regulation denying inmates the right to marry except for "compelling reasons."6 It is a familiar case, frequently invoked in legal arguments over same-sex marriage to support the proposition that marriage is a fundamental right under our federal constitutional jurisprudence.7 Too often, however, these arguments miss the totality of what Turner tells us about exactly why marriage is a fundamental right. Because the Turner Court struck down a marriage ban that applied to a population with no legal right to procreate and that provided an exception for pregnancy, the decision undermines any claim that marriage is fundamental because of an inexorable connection to procreation.

Part I of this Comment scrutinizes and ultimately rejects the Goodridge court's rational basis analysis. Part II explores the road not taken in Goodridge-the fundamental rights approach of cases such as Loving v. Virginia,8 Zablocki v. Redhail,9 and Turner. I argue that for marriage to comport with our fundamental rights jurisprudence, the source of its constitutional definition must be constitutional common law, not individual state statutes. Part III rediscovers Turner as a source of that constitutional definition, concluding that the case is irreconcilable with the view that the possibility of procreation is a necessary affluent of marriage's fundamentality. With Bowers v. Hardwick10 officially dead, Turner insists that same-sex marriage bans answer to strict, and therefore fatal, scrutiny.

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