Statutory classifications that distinguish between males and females are subject to scrutiny under the equal protection clause. To withstand constitutional challenge, previous cases establish that classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives.
Appellants, a male between 18 and 21 years of age and a liquor vendor, filed an action in district court that sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the enforcement of Okla. Stat. tit. 37, §§ 241 and 245 (1958 and Supp. 1976). Together, the statutes prohibited the sale of non-intoxicating three and two-tenths percent beer to males under the age of 21 and to females under the age of 18. Appellants alleged that the statutes constituted invidious discrimination against males between 18 and 20 years of age. The district court sustained the constitutionality of the statutory differential and dismissed the action.
Does a classification based on gender in a statute that regulates consumption of alcohol violate the equal protection clause?
The Court reversed, holding that the gender-based differential constituted a denial of the equal protection of the laws to males who were 18 to 20 years of age. The Court held that gender did not represent a legitimate, accurate proxy for the regulation of drinking and driving, and therefore, the classification was not substantially related to the achievement of a legitimate government objective. The court also noted that U.S. Const. amend. XXI did not save the gender-based discrimination from invalidation.