When a statutory classification significantly interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right, it cannot be upheld unless it is supported by sufficiently important state interests and is closely tailored to effectuate only those interests.
Under a Wisconsin statute, any resident of Wisconsin “having minor issue not in his custody and which he is under obligation to support by any court order or judgment" may not marry without a court approval order, which cannot be granted absent a showing that the support obligation has been met and that children covered by the support order "are not then and are not likely thereafter to become public charges." Appellee Redhail is a Wisconsin resident who, under the terms of § 245.10, is unable to enter into a lawful marriage in Wisconsin or elsewhere so long as he maintains his Wisconsin residency. On December 24, 1974, Redhail filed his complaint in the District Court, on behalf of himself and the class of all Wisconsin residents who had been refused a marriage license pursuant to § 245.10(1) by one of the county clerks in Wisconsin. The statute was attacked on the grounds that it deprived Redhail, and the class he sought to represent, of equal protection and due process rights secured by the First, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The three-judge District Court held that the statute was unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and enjoined its enforcement. Thereafter, appellants, a class of county clerks challenged the decision of the District Court, contending that the statute assisted the state to counsel residents on their financial obligations and protected the children to whom support was owed.
Was the statute in question unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
The Court held that the statute violated equal protection in that it directly and substantially interfered with the fundamental right to marry without being closely tailored to effectuate the state's interests. The Court noted that other future financial obligations were not curtailed; only those that might be associated with marriage. The Court further found that the effect of the statute was that more illegitimate children would be born.