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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Same-sex marriage dealt setbacks
Advocates of gay marriage have lost court battles in two of the largest US states, New York and Georgia.
New York's Court of Appeals ruled the state constitution does not grant a right to gay marriage, but left open the option for a change in the law.
In Georgia, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the state ban on gay marriage had been improperly passed.
American proponents of gay marriage have had success with court battles only in the state of Massachusetts.
The New York case combined four different suits brought by more than 40 same-sex couples who had spent two years fighting their case through the New York courts.
Three judges ruled that the state constitution did not require New York to recognise same-sex marriages.
A fourth judge concurred, though she added that it may be time "for the Legislature to address the needs of same-sex couples and their families".
Two judges wrote a heartfelt dissent, and one declined to participate in the case because his daughter has lobbied for gay marriage in California.
The ruling is the end of the line for this particular case, which the gay marriage advocates fought only on state law, not federal law.
Gov George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer - a leading candidate to be the next governor - had argued that lawmakers could reasonably believe marriage should be limited to one man and one woman.
Kathy Burke, one of the plaintiffs, said it was "a sad day for New York families", the Associated Press reported.
Another plaintiff, Regina Cicchetti, said she and Susan Zimmer, her partner of 36 years, had not given up.
"We're in this for the long haul. If we can't get it done for us, we'll get it done for the people behind us," AP quoted her as saying.
Georgia's Supreme Court decided its case on narrower grounds than New York's - where the plaintiffs claimed the ban on gay marriage was discriminatory.
The Georgia case concerned whether the state ban on gay marriage was imposed properly when it was approved by more than three in four voters state-wide in 2004.
A lower court ruled the ballot was improper, but the Supreme Court disagreed, thus reinstating the ban.
Ga. top court reinstates gay marriage ban
By SHANNON McCAFFREY, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 6, 12:00 PM ET
ATLANTA - The state Supreme Court reinstated Georgia's constitutional ban on gay marriage Thursday, just hours after New York's highest court upheld that state's gay-marriage ban.
The Georgia Supreme Court, reversing a lower court judge's ruling, decided unanimously that the ban did not violate the state's single-subject rule for ballot measures. Superior Court Judge Constance Russell of Fulton County had ruled that it did.
Seventy-six percent of Georgia voters approved the ban when it was on the ballot in 2004.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case had argued that the ballot language was misleading. The ballot measure asked voters to decide on allowing both same-sex marriage and civil unions, which Russell determined were separate issues about which many people have different opinions.
State officials argued that Georgians knew what they were voting on when they overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure.
2 top courts rule against gay marriage
By MARK JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 6, 3:16 PM ET
The highest courts in two states dealt gay rights advocates dual setbacks Thursday, rejecting same-sex couples' bid to win marriage rights in New York and reinstating a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Georgia.
Activists had hoped to widen marriage rights for gays and lesbians beyond Massachusetts with a legal victory in liberal New York, but the Court of Appeals ruled 4-2 that the state's law allowing marriage only between a man and a woman was constitutional.
The decision comes two years after gay and lesbian couples, supported by gay-rights groups who saw a chance for a major court win in a populous state, sued for the right to wed.
"Clearly, in bringing the case and pushing it as hard as they did, it's pretty good evidence that they thought they had a substantial chance of victory," said Ohio State University law professor Marc Spindelman, who tracks lesbian and gay legal issues. "It's hard to read the decision as anything other than a rebuff of gay and lesbian couples."
In Georgia, where three-quarters of voters approved a ban on gay marriage when it was on the ballot in 2004, the top court reinstated the ban Thursday, ruling unanimously that it did not violate the state's single-subject rule for ballot measures. Lawyers for the plaintiffs had argued that the ballot language was misleading, asking voters to decide on same-sex marriage and civil unions, separate issues about which many people had different opinions.
The twin rulings, which came less than two hours apart, become part of the nationwide debate that has continued to evolve since a Massachusetts court ruling in late 2003 ushered in a spate of gay marriage controversies from Boston to San Francisco.
High courts in Washington state and New Jersey are deliberating cases in which same-sex couples argue they have the right to marry. A handful of other states have cases moving through lower courts.
Forty-five states have specifically barred same-sex marriage through statutes or constitutional amendments. Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay marriage, although Vermont and Connecticut allow same-sex civil unions that confer the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples.
"It's a sad day for New York families," said plaintiff Kathy Burke of Schenectady, N.Y., who is raising an 11-year-old son with her partner of seven years, Tonja Alvis. "My family deserves the same protections as my next door neighbors."
The New York court said any change in the state's law should come from the state Legislature, Judge Robert Smith wrote. The decision said lawmakers have a legitimate interest in protecting children by limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. It went on to say the law does not deny homosexual couples any "fundamental right" since same-sex marriages are not "deeply rooted in the nation's history and tradition."
Advocates from the ACLU, Lambda Legal and other advocacy groups marshaled forces for the New York court fight and sued two years ago. Forty-four couples acted as plaintiffs, including the brother of comedian Rosie O'Donnell — Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell — and his longtime partner.
"There's no question they looked to New York as a place where they could win," said Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group based in Florida. "It would have been a major victory for them. Instead it's a stunning defeat for the same-sex marriage movement."
Matt Foreman, executive director of the Washington-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, acknowledged the sting of the New York decision but said the fight will continue.
"This is something that is going to work itself out over the next 10 or 15 years, ultimately through the U.S. Supreme Court or an act of Congress," he said.
Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the gay rights group Empire State Pride Agenda, said his organization would immediately launch a campaign to press the legislature to pass a gay marriage bill in 2007.
"New York is looked at as a place where marriage equality is possible and inevitable," he said. "This ruling doesn't change that. Those in the Legislature who have said they are our friends, it's now time for them to step up. We're going to hold their feet to the fire and hold them accountable."
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat leading in polls in the governor's race, has said he favors legalizing gay marriage and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would personally campaign to change the law. Spitzer's office argued in court in support of outgoing Gov. George Pataki's contention that state law prohibits issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In her dissent, Chief Judge Judith Kaye said the court failed to uphold its responsibility to correct inequalities when it decided to simply leave the issue to lawmakers.
"This state has a proud tradition of affording equal rights to all New Yorkers. Sadly, the court today retreats from that proud tradition," she wrote. "I am confident that future generations will look back on today's decision as an unfortunate misstep."
Judge Albert Rosenblatt, whose daughter has advocated for same-sex couples in California, did not take part in the decision.
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