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New York State's High Court Upholds Exclusion of Same-Sex Couples from Marriage
'Today's decision refuses to recognize that gay and lesbian New Yorkers and their families are full citizens of this state. But this struggle is far from over.'
(New York, July 6, 2006) -- The New York Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) issued a ruling upholding the state's exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage.
In the prevailing opinion, Judge Robert S. Smith nonetheless wrote, "We express our hope that the participants in the controversy over same-sex marriage will address their arguments to the Legislature."
"Today's decision refuses to recognize that gay and lesbian New Yorkers and their families are full citizens of this state. But this struggle is far from over," said Susan Sommer, Senior Counsel at Lambda Legal and lead attorney on Hernandez v. Robles, one of four marriage cases decided today by the Court of Appeals. "The majority of New Yorkers recognize that it's only fair to allow same-sex couples to marry. We call upon Mayor Bloomberg and Attorney General Spitzer to fulfill their promises to work with state legislators to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry."
In her dissent, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye wrote, "I am confident that future generations will look back on today's decision as an unfortunate misstep."
Lambda Legal filed Hernandez v. Robles in March 2004 seeking marriage licenses for same-sex couples in New York, arguing that denying them marriage violates the state constitution's guarantees of equality, liberty and privacy for all New Yorkers. The trial court issued its ruling in Lambda Legal's favor in February 2005, and New York City decided to appeal. The mid-level appeals court handed down its decision in the City's favor in December 2005, which Lambda Legal appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals agreed to hear Hernandez v. Robles, then agreed to hear three additional cases concerning marriage for same-sex couples in New York, which the court combined into one oral argument on May 31, 2006.
The four cases that were decided today are: Hernandez v. Robles, argued by Lambda Legal with cocounsel Jeffrey S. Trachtman and Norman C. Simon of Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel; Samuels v. New York State Health Department, argued by the ACLU with cocounsel Roberta A. Kaplan of Paul, Weiss; Matter of Kane v. Marsolais, argued by Terence L. Kindlon; and Seymour v. Holcomb, argued by L. Richard Stumbar. These lawsuits were all based on New York's state constitution, which means that today's decision is final and cannot be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
"Our children don't understand why their parents can't get married," said Lauren Abrams, a plaintiff in Hernandez v. Robles with her partner, Donna Freeman-Tweed. "We hope that Mayor Bloomberg and Attorney General Spitzer will do what they said they would do and work with the legislature to make our state's marriage laws fair for all New Yorkers-including lesbian and gay couples."
Lambda Legal has been working with Empire State Pride Agenda and the ACLU to increase public understanding and support for same-sex couples seeking to marry in New York. According to a poll conducted in March by Global Research Group on behalf of Empire State Pride Agenda, 53% of New Yorkers support marriage for same-sex couples in the Empire State. In May 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to open marriage to same-sex couples. A Boston Globe poll taken in March 2005 found that 56% of people in Massachusetts now favor marriage for same-sex couples. This percentage is nearly a mirror image of the 53% of people in the Bay State who had opposed such marriages just a year earlier in February 2004, before couples of the same sex could legally wed there. Spain, Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands stopped denying marriage to same-sex couples nationwide, with South Africa scheduled to follow soon.
"The question for the Legislature is an easy one: whether to follow through on the support of the majority of voters in this state to end discrimination against their gay friends and neighbors," Sommer said.
All but one of the states bordering New York has some sort of statewide legal status for gay and lesbian couples: Vermont and Connecticut have civil unions, New Jersey created domestic partnerships, and Massachusetts offers marriage. Same-sex couples have been marrying in Canada, the state's northern border, for several years.