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N.Y. top court rules against gay marriage
By MARK JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer
Thursday, July 6, 2006
ALBANY, N.Y. - New York's highest court ruled Thursday that gay marriage is not allowed under state law, rejecting arguments by same-sex couples who said the law violates their constitutional rights.
The Court of Appeals, in a 4-2 decision, said New York's marriage law is constitutional and clearly limits marriage to between a man and a woman.
Any change in the law would have to come from the state Legislature, Judge Robert Smith said.
"We do not predict what people will think generations from now, but we believe the present generation should have a chance to decide the issue through its elected representatives," Smith wrote.
Gov. George Pataki's health department and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office had argued New York law prohibits issuing licenses to same-sex couples. The state had prevailed in lower appeals courts.
"It's a sad day for New York families," said plaintiff Kathy Burke of Schenectady, who is raising an 11-year-old son with her partner, Tonja Alvis. "My family deserves the same protections as my next door neighbors."
The judges declined to follow the lead of high court judges in neighboring Massachusetts, who ruled that same-sex couples in that state have the same right to wed as straight couples.
The four cases decided Thursday were filed two years ago when the Massachusetts decision helped usher in a series of gay marriage controversies from Boston to San Francisco.
With little hope of getting a gay marriage bill signed into law in Albany, advocates from the ACLU, Lambda Legal and other advocacy groups marshaled forces for a court fight. Forty-four couples acted as plaintiffs in the suits, including the brother of comedian Rosie O'Donnell and his longtime partner.
Plaintiff Regina Cicchetti said she was "devastated" by the ruling. But the Port Jervis resident said she and her partner of 36 years, Susan Zimmer, would fight on, probably by lobbying the Legislature for a change in the law.
"We haven't given up," she said. "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."
In a 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.
Kaye noted that a number of bills allowing same-sex marriage have been introduced in the Legislature over the past several years, but none has ever made it out of committee.
"It is uniquely the function of the Judicial Branch to safeguard individual liberties guaranteed by the New York State Constitution, and to order redress for their violation," she wrote. "The court's duty to protect constitutional rights is an imperative of the separation of powers, not its enemy. 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.
Since the Massachusetts ruling, about a dozen states have approved constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, and 19 now outlaw it. There is now a push in Massachusetts for a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
A federal lawsuit filed over California's refusal to grant a marriage license to a gay couple reached the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May. The court, however, sidestepped the question of whether it was unconstitutional to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry, leaving the issue to state courts to decide.
On the Net:
Court of Appeals: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/ctapps/
New York court rules against gay marriage
Thursday, July 6, 2006
NEW YORK (AFP) - Same-sex couples have no constitutional right to marry in New York, the state's highest court ruled, leaving Massachusetts as the sole US state allowing gay and lesbian marriage.
"We hold that the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex," the state Court of Appeals in Albany said in a 4-2 decision.
The court considered four appeals filed by more than 40 gay and lesbian couples, who had argued that their inability to get marriage licences in New York violated their constitutional rights.
"Whether such marriages should be recognised is a question to be addressed by the legislature," the court said.
New York Gay Marriage Bar Upheld by State's Top Court (Update1)
July 6 (Bloomberg) -- Gay and lesbian couples have no constitutional right to marry in New York, the state's highest court ruled, leaving Massachusetts as the only U.S. state allowing such unions.
The court reviewed four appeals filed by 44 gay and lesbian couples, ruling 4 to 2 that the parties had no right to be issued marriage licenses by local officials.
``We're very disappointed that the court was unable to vindicate the constitutional rights for the many thousands of gay and lesbian couples throughout New York state,'' said Roberta Kaplan, an attorney who represented same-sex couples denied marriage licenses. ``We will take this battle to the legislature.''
Appeals of decisions upholding same-sex marriage bans are pending in New Jersey, California and Washington state. In 1999, Vermont determined the benefits of marriage must be provided to same-sex couples and referred the issue to the legislature, which enacted a civil union statute for same-sex couples.
``We hold that the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex,'' the state Court of Appeals in Albany ruled 4-2 today in a opinion by Justice Robert S. Smith.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Karen Freifeld in New York at email@example.com
Last Updated: July 6, 2006 09:17 EDT
New York court declines to recognize gay marriage
Thu Jul 6, 2006 9:22am ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York State Court of Appeals refused to recognize same-sex marriage in an order issued on Thursday, deciding that the issue should be addressed by the Legislature.
The New York case involves 48 gay and lesbian couples who filed four separate cases from across the state. The cases were heard together by the court in Albany.
Under 97-year-old state law, marriage is defined as between a man and woman. The same-sex couples had claimed the law violates their constitutional rights because it defends sex discrimination.
NY High Court Nixes Gay Marriage
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
July 6, 2006 - 9:00 am, Updated 9:25 am ET
(New York City) The Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York State, ruled Thursday that the state "Constitution does not compel the recognition of marriages between members of the same sex."
In a 4 - 2 decision, the court said that "Whether such marriages should be recognized is a question to be addressed by the Legislature."
The court heard arguments in May in an omnibus case involving four different lawsuits brought by 44 gay and lesbian couples.
Only six justices were on the bench to hear the combined cases. Justice Albert M. Rosenblatt, considered by many a swing vote, recused himself.
In lower courts judges in three of the cases upheld the current ban on same-sex marriage. In the fourth, New York City judge Doris Ling-Cohan ruled that the New York State Constitution guarantees basic freedoms to lesbian and gay people, and that those rights are violated when same-sex couples are not allowed to marry. That ruling was overturned in a midlevel appeals court.
Writing for the majority Justice Robert Smith said that the Domestic Relations Law, which governs marriage, does not specifically say that only people of different sexes may marry each other, but "that was the universal understanding when Articles 2 and 3 were adopted in 1909, an understanding reflected in several statutes."
The court also said that there are "at least two grounds that rationally support the limitation on marriage that the Legislature has enacted." Two of those, the ruling said, involve children.
"First, the Legislature could rationally decide that, for the welfare of children, it is more important to promote stability, and to avoid instability, in opposite-sex than in same-sex relationships.
"Heterosexual intercourse has a natural tendency to lead to the birth of children; homosexual intercourse does not."
The ruling also noted that the Legislature could "rationally believe that it is better, other things being equal, for children to grow up with both a mother and a father."
The justices said in the ruling that the same-sex couples fighting for marriage equality "have not persuaded us that this long accepted restriction is a wholly irrational one, based solely on ignorance and prejudice against homosexuals ... If we were convinced that the restriction plaintiffs attack were founded on nothing but prejudice - if we agreed with the plaintiffs that it is comparable to the restriction in Loving v Virginia a prohibition on interracial marriage that was plainly 'designed to maintain White Supremacy' -- we would hold it invalid, no matter how long its history.
A poll released in April showed that a majority of people across New York State support same-sex marriage.
Decisions in challenges to state laws barring same-sex marriage are pending in two other states.
Arguments in New Jersey were heard in February. (story)
In the state of Washington the wait for a ruling on gay marriage has turned into a marathon.
Arguments challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, were made before the Washington state Supreme Court in March 2005. (story)
Meanwhile, in California, a mid level appeals court will hear an omnibus same-sex marriage case next week. That case is expected to reach the California Supreme Court next year.
The only state where same-sex marriage currently legal is Massachusetts. Gay and lesbian couples there began marrying in May 2004 after that state's high court ruled the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
Bay Area Reporter
Issue: Vol. 36 / No. 27 / 6 July 2006
Japanese politician opens closet doors
by Matthew S. Bajko
Kanako Otsuji is a rare political voice for Japan's LGBT community. Last summer when she took to the stage at Tokyo's Pride festival and came out, she became the first out lesbian politician on the island nation.
Elected to the Osaka Prefecture in April 2003, Otsuji wasn't exactly in the closet. But no one had bothered to ask her about her sexual orientation, either, so she never publicly revealed it during her campaign.
"If someone had asked me if I was a lesbian I would have said yes. But no one asked me. If they asked me if I was married, I would say no," said Otsuji, speaking through a translator.
Technically, it was the truth. She and her partner, Maki Kimura, a member of her Assembly staff, are not able to marry. Once in office Otsuji decided it was time to break her silence about being gay, and in the words of another pioneering gay politician, give hope to Japan's LGBT community.
So the 31-year-old penned a book titled Coming Out: The Journey to Find Myself – it has sold 5,000 copies – and shined a spotlight on a topic still considered taboo in her country. She also jumped on a bullet train last August for the two and half hour ride east to take part in Tokyo's Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade. Otsuji decided to make her announcement there because Osaka, Japan's second largest city, does not host a Pride festival – though it does have a gay film festival – and it was the first time Tokyo's LGBT community had organized a Pride event in several years.
"If I was going to come out I wanted to come out to other gay people," said Otsuji during an interview with the Bay Area Reporter on June 26, the day after this year's San Francisco Pride Parade, in the lobby of the Vintage Court hotel. "I got about 300 e-mails from LGBT people. Most of them were very grateful but at the same time they also were concerned about me. There are very few people in Japan who are openly gay. People were afraid by publicly coming out I would be harassed."
As for any backlash to her decision, Otsuji said, "I may have received two or three e-mails and maybe two or three phone calls but that doesn't mean I am accepted either."
The true test of how accepting Japan's public will be of a lesbian lawmaker will come next April when Otsuji must run for office again. There is precedent for Japanese voters overlooking a candidate's sexual minority status – a transgender candidate won a political office in 2003.
Even more than her being an out lesbian, Otsuji's electoral chances have been complicated since her first campaign due to redistricting. When she ran the first time her district elected 10 people. Now the district is divided into six different districts with each electing two people to the Assembly. Not a member of the leading political parties, Otsuji said she is unsure if she can win a second term and may seek to run for a different office.
"Since I am an independent my chances are very low," she said. "If my district was still electing 10 people I would have been elected."
Powered by Pride
Visiting five American cities as part of a State Department-sponsored exchange, Otsuji's stay in San Francisco coincided with the annual Pride celebration. She took part in the Friday night Transgender March, participated in the pink triangle ceremony and met other Asian women at the Dyke March and rally Saturday, and watched the parade on Sunday.
She met one woman who thanked her for writing her book.
"On Saturday I met a Japanese woman who lives here. She told me her father read my book and could understand [her] better after reading it," recounted Otsuji, who traveled to Washington, D.C.; Buffalo, New York; Austin, Texas; and ended her trip in Seattle.
Along the way she met with fellow out politicians, including U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and local lawmakers Assemblymen Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and John Laird (D-Santa Cruz); Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Bevan Dufty; and city Treasurer Jose Cisneros. She also met Mayor Gavin Newsom whom she said, "was tall and handsome – like a model."
Asked what she thought when she learned about Newsom's decision to marry same-sex couples in 2004, Otsuji remarked, "I thought, 'Good, old San Francisco.'"
The most impressive aspect of her visit, she said, was the city's Pride festivities. Compared to the 3,500-person crowd at Tokyo's Pride, Otsuji said she was astonished to see hundreds of thousands of people at San Francisco's celebration.
"I was so surprised by how many gay and lesbian people there were," she said. "I was speechless by the fact that the San Francisco gay and lesbian community has so much support and so many different people are doing different things and everyone just lives naturally out, because there is discrimination and prejudice in Japan."
In Japan, she said, there are no laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation at the national level. In Osaka, she said there is a statute regarding human rights that includes sexual minorities, but it is not in the law itself.
"It's in the plan that is based on the law," she explained. "It was there before I joined the Assembly."
Since she came out, she has pushed the Osaka government to host a training for employees about LGBT issues and change the cohabitation policies in its public housing system.
"Previously, it was restricted to just families. Now you can live there with a friend. It is not at all the housing, but at some," said Otsuji. "Now same-sex partners can apply to live in the public housing buildings. I also confirmed in the Assembly that same-sex partners have access to visit their partners in the hospital."
Leading a second gay boom
Otsuji is hopeful that the future holds greater acceptance and positive changes for Japan's LGBT community.
"It is something that nobody can stop. My role is to speed up those changes," she said.
She sees her generation – which came of age during the 1990s when women's magazines published glowing accounts of gay men being a "fashionable presence" – as leading a second wave of public awareness about gays and lesbians.
"For lesbians in 1993 and 1995 two books were written in which lesbians came out. I read those books when I was 20. Now those of us in our teens during the first boom are creating a second boom," said Otsuji. "The issue of same-sex marriage is not on the political agenda in Japan. But I would like to work to put the issue of same-sex partnerships on the agenda in the next decade."
The first step she said is for more Japanese to come out. It is the same route to political power and social acceptance that her hero, former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, constantly challenged this country's LGBT community to do.
"First, we have to create a society in Japan where more people can be out, otherwise people's mentalities won't change. People are not aware of the fact there are gay and lesbian people in their families, workplaces and at their schools," she said.
Unlike those gays and lesbians who opt to live outside Japan, Otsuji does not imagine herself leaving her homeland.
"LGBT people cannot choose where they are born, so if I go to San Francisco by myself the problems in Japan won't be solved," she said. "I'd rather change the city where I live to make it easier for other gay people to live like here in San Francisco."
Her guide is Milk, one of the first out gay men to hold public office in the U.S. and the first to serve openly on the city's Board of Supervisors.
"When I was 24 years old, I saw Harvey's movie and [read] his book. What I learned is if a politician has the will to change things and courageousness then things will change," said Otsuji. "Harvey gave that famous speech where he said you've got to give them hope. It really moved me; that's why I became a politician. The things that happened in San Francisco in the 1970s didn't just stop in San Francisco. They crossed the ocean and are influencing Japan as well."
Outcome Buffalo 2006/06/30
JAPANESE OFFICIAL MEETS WITH BUFFALO GLBT
BUFFALO--Kanako Otsuji, an elected official from Japan, recently met with a cross section of Buffalo's glbt population as part of a United States State Department program that brings foreign elected officials to communities in the United States. The visit was coordinated locally by the International Institute.
As a Member of Osaka Prefectural Assembly she disclosed that she is a lesbian in hopes that her action will help to encourage the gay community. Ms. Otsuji is the only openly gay or lesbian elected official in Japan. She did tell the group that few Japanese live their lives as openly gay people. In fact Tokyo, a city of over 8.5 million only had 3,500 showed up for their pride parade, a crowd that is similar to Buffalo's pride celebration.
Ms. Kanako Otsuji (age 30), a member of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly, "comes out" in a book she that she authored. The book was published just this month. Two years ago, Ms. Otsuji was elected as the youngest member of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly. Ms. Otsuji was quoted as saying that her activism in the Assembly and desire to frame gay and lesbian issues as human right issues "gave (her) the confidence to disclose (herself) as a lesbian."
Since she was elected in April 2003, she has taken up minority issues at the Assembly's general interpellation, to include gay and lesbian rights. Specifically, she has asked the prefectural government to set up a counselor service window for gays and lesbians. She told her supporters that she would "like to encourage people who are exposed to discrimination and prejudice to live as they are." She is happy that she has finally found the strength to do so. Her book "Coming Out - A Journey to Find Myself" will be published by Kodansha Ltd., Publishers.
The group discussed how U.S. law protects the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, "gay marriage" registration. As well as how openly gay people are treated by society in communities in Western New York.
Ms. Otsuji will also be visiting Seattle, Austin and San Francisco. —Staff