New York Court Upholds Same-Sex Marriage
By Kavan Peterson, Staff Writer
It puts New York on the same track as Washington state, where the state's highest court is expected to hear oral arguments March 8 in an appeal of a lower-court ruling outlawing discrimination against gay couples who want to marry.
"This is a historic ruling that delivers the state Constitution's promise of equality to all New Yorkers," said Susan Sommer, the lead attorney in the lawsuit argued by Lambda Legal, the nation's largest gay rights legal organization. The lawsuit was filed by five same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in New York City.
New York State Supreme Court Judge Doris Ling-Cohan ruled that the state's Constitution guarantees basic freedoms to all citizens and that the rights of gays and lesbians are violated when same-sex couples are not allowed to marry.
The ruling said that same-sex couples are guaranteed equal access to marriage under the state's Constitution and that the couples who sued must be given marriage licenses.
However, no marriage licenses will be issued to same-sex couples for 30 days while New York's city clerk decides whether to appeal the case. David Buckel, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said there is little doubt the decision will be appealed and likely will not be resolved until it goes before the state's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals.
The ruling may spur interest in the New York Legislature in measures that would change the state Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage and annul the court's decision. New York is one of only six states that have not adopted so-called "Defense of Marriage Acts" to ban same-sex marriage by state law or constitutional amendment. The other five states are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New Mexico.
New York has not considered a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the past, but legislation to change state law to define marriage as the union of a man and woman has been introduced and defeated in the New York Legislature every year for the past six years, said Steven Kidder, executive director of the New York Family Policy Counsel, an organization affiliated with Focus on the Family, a national conservative organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I think the Court of Appeals should rule for one man-one woman marriage in New York state to keep it the way it's remained for the past 5,000 years," Kidder said. "If not, I expect this to push the Legislature to react in our favor."
In response to the Massachusetts decision, voters in 13 states last year overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage and protect against a Massachusetts-type ruling. Four states previously had rewritten their constitutions to outlaw same-sex marriages. Kansas this week became the first state in 2005 to schedule a statewide vote on a constitutional gay marriage ban -- on April 5. At least 16 other states are considering state constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage.
Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union are currently litigating cases seeking marriage for same-sex couples in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, California and Washington State. A decision is pending from the trial court in the California case and a New Jersey state appeals court heard arguments in that case in December, and a decision is pending. The other cases have not yet gone to trial.
Other state courts that already have looked at the issue in Massachusetts, Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii have ruled in favor of gay unions. In both Alaska and Hawaii, however, the court rulings later were overridden by state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. In Vermont, the Legislature created civil unions as an alternative to marriage.