TV & Radio
The New York Times
December 9, 2005
Court Voids Ruling Backing Gay Marriage
By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS
An appellate court yesterday reversed a lower court ruling that would have permitted same-sex marriage in New York City.
By a 4-1 majority, the appellate panel not only rejected the lower court's ruling that state law forbidding same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, but said that the state had a legitimate and rational interest in promoting heterosexual marriage.
The majority's 20-page decision offered a ringing defense of heterosexual marriage, which the court portrayed as an important way of ensuring child welfare and social stability.
"Marriage promotes sharing of resources between men, women and the children that they procreate," said the panel of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court. "It is based on the presumption that the optimal situation for child-rearing is having both biological parents present in a committed, socially esteemed relationship."
Moreover, the panel said, decisions about the legitimacy of same-sex marriage are more properly left to the Legislature.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg reiterated yesterday that he was personally in favor of permitting same-sex marriage, and that the city had appealed the lower court decision only as a way of clarifying the law.
"As I have said, this issue should be decided by the state's highest court, and I assume today's decision will be appealed," Mr. Bloomberg said in a written statement. "If today's decision is affirmed by the Court of Appeals, I will urge the Legislature to change the State's Domestic Relations Law to permit gay marriage."
Susan L. Sommer, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, confirmed that they would appeal.
The suit was filed by a gay and lesbian rights group, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, on behalf of five same-sex couples in New York City, against the city clerk, Victor L. Robles, who issues marriage licenses.
Daniel Hernandez, 48, the lead plaintiff along with his partner, Nevin Cohen, said yesterday that he was "incredibly disappointed" by the ruling.
He said it had been depressing to go to oral arguments in the case, in which the city's lawyers, arguing that same-sex marriage was against the law, "treated our relationships as though they were insignificant and not these really strong, loving relationships that people in our community have."
Ms. Sommer said that while there were other challenges to the state's marriage law pending in other jurisdictions, the decision yesterday appeared to put this lawsuit on track to be the first to reach the high court.
Because the suit argues state issues rather than federal ones, she said, it will not go to the United States Supreme Court.
The decision overturned a Feb. 7 ruling by Justice Doris Ling-Cohan of State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Justice Ling-Cohan found that state marriage law violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the State Constitution. She permanently enjoined the city from denying a marriage license to any couple on the ground that they were of the same sex, a decision that has been stayed pending the appeals.
The panel also overturned Justice Ling-Cohan's ruling that gender-specific terms in state marriage law, such as "husband, "wife," "groom" and "bride," should be construed to apply equally to men and women.
The definition of marriage now enshrined in state law, "expresses an important, long-recognized public policy supporting, among other things, procreation, child welfare and social stability - all legitimate state interest," the appellate majority said.
Ms. Sommer, the lawyer, took issue with the court's contention that marriage law was a matter for the Legislature to decide, comparing it to other civil rights issues. "If the Legislature doesn't live up to its duty, it's entirely the role of the courts in a constitutional democracy to step in and protect individuals and minorities," she said.
She said that while the appellate division might be appealing to tradition, there was nothing sacrosanct about tradition, which has evolved over time. "Not so long ago, marriage was viewed legally and culturally as a patriarchal institution in which the husband essentially owned his wife as chattel," Ms. Sommer said.
She said that to say that state law intended marriage to protect the conception and raising of children flew in the face of state law that "completely acknowledges and supports the rights of same-sex couples to rear children."
State Senator Thomas Duane of Lower Manhattan, who has sponsored a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, said yesterday that the Senate and Assembly leaders had indicated that they would not push legislation to override court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 8, 2005
STATEMENT FROM MAYOR BLOOMBERG ON APPELLATE DIVISION'S RULING IN SAME-SEX MARRIAGE CASE
"As I have said, this issue should be decided by the State's highest court and I assume today's decision will be appealed. If today's decision is affirmed by the Court of Appeals, I will urge the Legislature to change the State's Domestic Relations Law to permit gay marriage."
Edward Skyler/Robert Lawson (212) 788-2958