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New York's High Court Hears Same-Sex Marriage Case

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New York's High Court Hears Same-Sex Marriage Case

by The Assciated Press

May 31, 2006 - 12:01 am ET

(Albany, New York) Jo-Ann Shain, a 53-year-old medical publication editor, and her partner, Mary Jo Kennedy, 50, hope to celebrate their 25 years together by getting married.

They also hope that could happen soon as New York's highest court hears arguments today by Lambda Legal on behalf of same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses. The session before the Court of Appeals is the last step before the court makes the ultimate judicial decision on the legality of gay marriage in New York.

"We're very confident that once the judges hear our story, and the personal stories of all the plaintiffs, they will make the right decision and grant us access to civil marriage," said Shain, a Brooklyn resident who came to Albany to attend the court arguments. "Once they see that we are couples in committed relationships, they'll understand we deserve the same rights and protections that marriage affords."

In February, a midlevel appeals court in Albany upheld the state's marriage law as constitutional, handing a defeat to gay couples who argued that state health regulations limiting marriage to a man and a woman violate the equal protection, privacy and due-process provisions of the state Constitution.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court ruled in three separate cases to keep the status quo on same-sex marriage. Gov. George Pataki's health department and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer have said New York law prohibits municipal clerks from issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

The February decision followed a 4-1 ruling by the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division in New York City to reverse a lower court decision that would have permitted same-sex couples to wed.

"Marriage laws are not primarily about adult needs for official recognition and support, but about the well-being of children and society, and such preference constitutes a rational policy decision," the majority wrote in the December ruling, adding that it was the Legislature's role to make policy decisions over "which type of family unit works best for society."

Opponents of same-sex marriage note that the majority of Americans agree with their opinion that marriage should only be between a man and woman. Gay marriage remains a divisive issue, with 51 percent of Americans opposing it, a March poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found. However, that's down from the 63 percent that opposed gay marriage in February 2004.

"The supporters of same-sex marriage are making this a discrimination issue when we truly believe it is not," said Dennis Poust of the New York State Catholic Conference. "Marriage was created for a specific purpose, the stable rearing of children that arise out of sexual relationships. To change that is not a question of discrimination. It is changing the very meaning of marriage into something quite different."

Still, gay rights groups said they expect to prevail before the Court of Appeals.

"There is only one solution, full-marriage rights for same-sex couples, that would cure the legal deprivation here," said Susan Sommer, an attorney with Lambda Legal, which represents five same-sex couples. "The Legislature should not be given leeway to come up with a less than constitutional result."

The couples filed their cases in 2004 when the gay marriage issue roiled the country from Boston to San Francisco. The controversy landed in New York after Mayor Jason West of the Hudson Valley village of New Paltz married about two-dozen gay couples in February of that year.

"Not since the passage of the gay nondiscrimination act has the gay community reached such an important crossroads," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "It's an opportunity for the couples in these cases to have their stories told and for a long injustice to be made right."

©365Gay.com 2006

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