Activists scored their first major victory in 1993, in the Hawaii case of Baehr v. Lewin. Nina Baehr sued the state of Hawaii; she alleged that the state’s refusal to issue her and her same-sex partner a marriage license amounted to illegal discrimination. In a plurality decision, the Hawaii Supreme Court said her case had merit. The Court ruled the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriages amounted to discrimination on the basis of sex. Under the state’s Equal Rights Amendment, the state would have to establish a compelling state interest supporting such a ban, a fairly strict standard. Although the court did not directly rule that the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriages was illegal, it left little doubt of its skepticism regarding the proposition. The court remanded the case to a lower court to determine whether the state could prove this compelling state interest in prohibiting same-sex marriage.
For the first time, a state Supreme Court had ruled that gay couples might have the right to marry. Although its immediate impact was only in Hawaii, the decision heartened gay rights supporters and discouraged opponents throughout the country. One reason for these responses was the Full Faith and Credit Clause, found in Article IV, Section 1, of the United States Constitution: “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each state to the public Acts, Records and judicial Proceedings of every other state.” The Clause requires states to grant full weight to legal actions in other states, including marriages, divorces, and other family-related situations. Both opponents and proponents of gay marriage realized that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution might mean that if same-sex marriages were legal in Hawaii, the marriages would be entitled to legal recognition in other states as well.