[JURIST] The New York Court of Appeals [official website], the state's highest court, ruled Thursday morning that New York's ban on same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] is not unconstitutional. The ruling [PDF] comes in four consolidated cases [JURIST report] where attorneys representing 48 gay and lesbian couples argued [recorded video] that a 97-year-old statute limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman should be overturned.
In a 4-2 decision upholding relevant sections of the New York Domestic Relations Law [text], the court held:
We hold, in sum, that the Domestic Relations Law's limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples is not unconstitutional. We emphasize once again that we are deciding only this constitutional question. It is not for us to say whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong. We have presented some (though not all) of the arguments against same-sex marriage because our duty to defer to the Legislature requires us to do so. We do not imply that there are no persuasive arguments on the other side -- and we know, of course, that there are very powerful emotions on both sides of the question.Writing in dissent, Chief Judge Kaye said:
The Court ultimately concludes that the issue of samesex marriage should be addressed by the Legislature. If the Legislature were to amend the statutory scheme by making it gender neutral, obviously the instant controversy would disappear. But this Court cannot avoid its obligation to remedy constitutional violations in the hope that the Legislature might some day render the question presented academic. After all, by the time the Court decided Loving in 1967, many states had already repealed their anti-miscegenation laws. Despite this trend, however, the Supreme Court did not refrain from fulfilling its constitutional obligation.Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST report] in 2003, while Vermont allows gay and lesbian couples to enjoy the benefits of marriage in civil unions. New York made national headlines last year when New Paltz Mayor Jason West married 24 gay and lesbian couples [JURIST report]. New York prosecutors dropped charges against West for violating the state's domestic relations law [JURIST report] by marrying couples without licenses, and the New York Supreme Court afterwards voided all 24 marriages performed by West [JURIST report]. AP has more.
The fact remains that although a number of bills to authorize same-sex marriage have been introduced in the Legislature over the past several years, none has ever made it out of committee (see 2005 NY Senate-Assembly Bill S 5156, A 7463; 2005 NY Assembly Bill A 1823; 2003 NY Senate Bill S 3816; 2003 NY Assembly Bill A 7392; 2001 NY Senate Bill S 1205; see also 2005 NY Senate-Assembly Bill S 1887-A, A 3693-A [proposing establishment of domestic partnerships]; 2004 NY Senate-Assembly Bill S 3393-A, A 7304-A [same]).
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. 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.