Gender Classifications: Doctrine during 1970s
Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
In Reed v. Reed,1 the Court held invalid a state probate law that gave males preference over females when both were equally entitled to administer an estate. Because the statute “provides that different treatment be accorded to the applicants on the basis of their sex,” Chief Justice Burger wrote, “it thus establishes a classification subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.” The Court proceeded to hold that under traditional equal protection standards—requiring a classification to be reasonable and not arbitrarily related to a lawful objective—the classification made was an arbitrary way to achieve the objective the state advanced in defense of the law, that is, to reduce the area of controversy between otherwise equally qualified applicants for administration. Thus, the Court used traditional analysis but the holding seems to go somewhat further to say that not all lawful interests of a state may be advanced by a classification based solely on sex.2
- 404 U.S. 71 (1971).
- 404 U.S. at 75–77. Cf. Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438, 447 n.7 (1972). A statute similar to that in Reed was before the Court in Kirchberg v. Feenstra, 450 U.S. 455 (1981) (invalidating statute giving husband unilateral right to dispose of jointly owned community property without wife’s consent).
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