Air Force servicemen may claim dependent wives without proof. Servicewomen must document their husband's financial dependence.
411 U.S. 677 (1973)
"Our Nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination."
|"romantic paternalism which put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage"|
MP3 (1:00) — Alabama, 1971. Air Force Lieutenant Sharron Frontiero applies for medical and housing benefits. She lists her husband as dependent. Servicemen may claim dependent wives without proof. Servicewomen must document their husband is financially dependent for at least half his support. The Lieutenant's husband is not: benefits denied. She appeals.
In 1952, a unanimous Supreme Court declares the state law unconstitutional. "From the standpoint of freedom of speech and the press," writes Justice Clark, "the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them. It is not the business of our government to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches, or motion pictures."
The Government argues it's cheaper and easier to assume a wife is dependent. But a husband? Prove it.
"This difference in treatment," says the Supreme Court, is "an unconstitutional discrimination against servicewomen, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment." Justice Brennan writes: "Our Nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination, rationalized by an attitude of 'romantic paternalism' which, in practical effect, put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage."