Moe v. Dinkins
533 F.Supp. 623 (1981), 669 F.2d 67 (1982)

  • 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 not give.
    • 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 18.
  • Another underage couple (Pedro (17) and Cristina (15 and pregnant)) intervened to turn this into a class action suit.
  • 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 of minors.
      • 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 government.
    • The Court found that New York had a rational basis for the law.
      • 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 power.
      • 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 scrutiny.
    • 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 future marriage.