N.Y. Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban
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By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS
Published: July 6, 2006
New York's highest court today turned back an attempt by gay and lesbian couples to win equal treatment under New York State's marriage law, saying that the state constitution "does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex."
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(courts.state.ny.us) The court's ruling combined four different lawsuits by 44 gay and lesbian couples throughout the state, who argued that they had a constitutionally protected right to be married like heterosexual couples, and that to deny them that right violated the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the state constitution.
In a rare fracture, the six judges were split into a plurality of three, who signed the majority opinion; a concurring opinion by one judge; and a strong dissent by the other two.
The majority opinion agreed with lawyers for New York City and New York State that there was a rational basis — grounded in the stability of the family as a child-rearing institution — for limiting marriage to a union of one man and one woman.
But it left open the possibility that the state Legislature could decide to allow same-sex marriages.
"We hold that the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex," Judge Robert S. Smith wrote in the majority decision. "Whether such marriages should be recognized is a question to be addressed by the Legislature."
The court conceded that "the benefits of marriage are many." But the three-judge pluralitiy wrote that the Legislature could rationally decide, as a matter of social policy, that it is more important to promote the stability that marriage brings within an opposite-sex union than within same-sex unions.
In addition, it said, the Legislature could reasonably believe that "it is better, other things being equal, for children to grow up with both a mother and a father."
The court's decision was a crushing blow for advocates of gay and lesbian marriage, who have no further grounds for appeal, because they did not raise any federal issues in this litigation. It means that the question of same-sex marriage goes back to a divided legislature, where advocates acknowledge that winning support for gay and lesbian unions will be a long, uphill battle.
The court's decision could be construed as a victory for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, facing a primary campaign for re-election last year, appealed the only one of the four cases to win a favorable decision for same-sex marriage in the lower courts. Mayor Bloomberg insisted that he supported gay and lesbian marriage, and filed the appeal only to clarify the parameters of the law and the constitution. However, the court's decision closely tracked the arguments raised by his corporation counsel.
In her often stirring dissent, Chief Judge Judith Kaye, joined by Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, offered a departure from the dry legal language of the main decision, noting that the plaintiffs represented a cross-section of ordinary New Yorkers, including a police officer, a doctor, a teacher and an artist, who wanted "only to live full lives, raise their children, better their communites and be good neighbors."
Judge Kaye added: "For most of us, leading a full life includes establishing a family," and looking forward to a wedding "as among the most significant events of their lives."
She suggested that it was wrong for the plaintiffs to be denied the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage, "because of who they love," adding that New York had a tradition of equal rights, and "the court today retreats from that proud tradition."
In a lengthy concurrence, Judge Victoria A. Graffeo, a Pataki appointee, agreed with the majority on the constitutional issues, while signaling some sympathy with gay and lesbian couples seeking to be married.
"It may well be that the time has come for the Legislature to address the needs of same-sex couples and their families, and to consider granting these individuals additional benefits through marriage, or whatever status the Legislature deems appropriate," she wrote.
New York lawmakers have not appeared in any rush to act on the issue, although the leading Democratic candidate for governor, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, has promised gay-rights groups that he will seek to legalize gay marriage if he is elected in November. Mr. Spitzer's Democratic rival in the race, Thomas R. Suozzi, and the Republican nominee, John Faso, oppose legalization of gay marriage.