Facts of the Case

Provided by Oyez

Sharron Frontiero, a lieutenant in the United States Air Force, sought a dependent's allowance for her husband. Federal law provided that the wives of members of the military automatically became dependents; husbands of female members of the military, however, were not accepted as dependents unless they were dependent on their wives for over one-half of their support. Frontiero's request for dependent status for her husband was turned down.


  1. Did a federal law, requiring different qualification criteria for male and female military spousal dependency, unconstitutionally discriminate against women thereby violating the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause?


  1. Yes. The Court held that the statute in question clearly commanded "dissimilar treatment for men and women who are similarly situated," violating the Due Process Clause and the equal protection requirements that clause implied. A majority could not agree on the standard of review, however. The plurality opinion written by Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., applying a strict standard of review to the sex-based classification as it would to racial classification, found that the government's interest in administrative convenience could not justify discriminatory practices. But a concurring opinion by Justice Lewis F. Powell and joined by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justice Harry A. Blackmun would not go so far as to hold sex discrimination to the same standard as race, choosing instead to argue that statutes drawing lines between the sexes alone necessarily involved the "very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the Constitution," an approach employed in the Court's prior decision in Reed v. Reed. Justice Potter Stewart concurred separately that the statutes created invidious discrimination in violation of the Constitution. Justice William H. Rehnquist dissented affirming the reasoning of the lower court opinion.