The significance of this judgment is that it rejected the premise that married women are necessarily dependent upon their husbands for financial support.
Lillian and William Orr divorced in Alabama on 26 February 1974. The decree directed William to pay Lillian $1,240 per month in alimony. Soon he either fell behind or stopped paying altogether, and Lillian brought contempt proceedings against him in the Circuit Court of Lee County, Alabama, demanding back payments.
In defense, William claimed that Alabama’s alimony statutes violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, since they required only husbands–never wives–to pay alimony. Lillian believed the law was constitutional. The court agreed with her and ordered William to pay the back alimony plus Lillian’s legal fees. William promptly appealed the judgment to the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama.
On 16 March 1977, the court ruled that alimony laws–“designed” to help “the wife of a broken marriage who needs financial assistance”–were constitutional. The judgment against William must stand. William next petitioned the Supreme Court of Alabama for a writ of certiorari–an order that the lower court send the trial records to the superior court for review. In May, the state supreme court granted this writ–only to reverse itself six months later, saying the writ had been “improvidently granted.” William then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
The US Supreme Court concluded the discussion with a few remarks about women’s “proper place”:
“Legislative classifications which distribute benefits and burdens on the basis of gender carry the inherent risk of reinforcing stereotypes about the “proper place” of women and their need for special protection .. . Thus, even statutes purportedly designed to compensate for and amelioratethe effects of past discrimination must be carefully tailored. Where, as here, the State’s compensatory and ameliorative purposes are as well served by agender-neutral classification as one that gender classifies and therefore carries with it the baggage of sexual stereotypes, the State cannot be permitted to classify on the basis of sex.”
A Divorce Decision Changes the Meaning of Marriage
The laws governing marriage are more often evaluated during divorce proceedings than during the life of an intact marriage. Thus, in settling the Orrs’ dispute about their divorce decree, the Supreme Court radically changed the legal basis of marriage in America. As editor Leslie Friedman Goldstein points out, Anglo-American law had held that the “legal core” of marriage was a woman’s obligation to provide sexual and domestic services and a man’s obligation to provide financial support. The Court’s ruling in Orr v. Orr was a complete rejection of such assumptions and one that, in Goldstein’s words, “seismically altered” the marriage institution.”
Here is the link to the analysis of this judgment: Orr v. Orr
Here is the link to the full text : Orr Vs Orr, Full Text