New York Court Rejects Same-Sex Marriage; Georgia Court Reinstates Ban

Gay marriage not allowed under New York state law, appeals court rules; Georgia Supreme Court reverses lower-court ruling.

Same-sex marriage advocates may have thought New York was on the cusp of becoming the second state to legalize gay marriage, but a 4-2 ruling by the state's Court of Appeals dashed those hopes Thursday morning (July 6).

The appeals court ruled that gay marriage is not allowed under state law, rejecting arguments from gay and lesbian plaintiffs that their inability to get marriage licenses in New York violated their rights of equal protection and due process under the state constitution.

"It's a sad day for New York families," said one of the plaintiffs, Kathy Burke, who is raising an 11-year-old son with her partner, according to The Associated Press. "My family deserves the same protections as my next-door neighbors."

Judge Robert Smith, who wrote the majority decision, said New York's marriage law is constitutional and that a change in that law should come from the state Legislature, not the bench. "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, according to the AP.

The state's 97-year-old law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, a restriction that the plaintiffs argued violates their constitutional rights because it upholds sex discrimination. If the court had ruled to allow gay marriage, it likely would have ordered the Legislature to rewrite the marriage law.

The four cases decided Thursday were filed two years ago by 44 gay and lesbian couples — including the brother of comedian Rosie O'Donnell and his longtime partner — after Massachusetts' high court ruled gay marriage should be allowed in that state, which remains the only one that allows same-sex couples to marry (see "Same-Sex Couples Marry — Legally — For The First Time In U.S.").

"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 in one of the four cases. Lambda was expected to announce its intentions to lobby New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to push for same-sex-marriage legislation at a midday news conference in New York, according to a spokesperson.

The New York Times reported that one "friend of the court" brief argued against same-sex marriage by explaining that the opposition "is not rooted in animus towards gay and lesbians," but in the conviction that "only opposite-sex unions can both create the next generation and connect those children to the mother and father who made them."

In other same-sex-rights news:

Also on Thursday, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously voted to reverse a lower court's ruling and reinstate a voter-approved ban on gay marriage (see "Judge Rules Georgia's Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional"). The court ruled that the ban — approved by 76 percent of voters in 2004 — did not violate the state rule on ballot measures, AP reported.

The lawsuit over the ban had focused on the wording of the voter-approved ballot measure, with the plaintiffs arguing that the language addressed more than one issue and that the measure was misleading because it asked voters to decide on both same-sex marriage and civil unions, separate issues about which many people had different opinions.

The American Family Association of Michigan sued Michigan State University on Wednesday to stop it from offering health insurance to the partners of gay and lesbian workers, saying that the school is violating the state constitution, the AP reported.

The conservative group said it hopes to get a ruling that would set a precedent blocking domestic-partner benefits at other state universities, including the University of Michigan, Wayne State and Central Michigan. A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan called the move to strip benefits from same-sex partners "mean-spirited" as a state appeals court is already set to rule on the issue.

The purpose of the lawsuit is to make sure that courts rule on the constitutionality of domestic-partner benefits at public universities, according to an attorney representing the American Family Association, who said that by providing benefits the school is "recognizing same-sex marriage in substance, if not by label."

[This story was originally published at 1:01 p.m. ET on 07.06.2006]