By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com July 26 2011 9:50 AM ET
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms filed suit on Monday seeking to nullify the new marriage equality law because of alleged improper activity, such as closed meetings and promises of campaign donations, in the State Senate leading up to the vote.
The suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Livingston County, names the New York State Senate, the New York State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as defendants. It claims that in the run-up to the vote last month, meetings in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Laws occurred between the Republican senate conference, which unanimously voted against the bill in 2009, and officials who support marriage equality, such as Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who, the suit makes a point to note, “openly identifies as a lesbian.” The suit also alleges that financial support from figures including Bloomberg was promised to win Republican votes, that the bill bypassed senate committees, that senators who opposed the bill were prevented from speaking during the floor vote, that lobbyists and the public were locked out by the senate, and that Cuomo unjustifiably issued a message of necessity in expediting the bill for a vote.
“In light of the uphill battle to pass the Act in the Senate, political pressure was placed on the Republican Senators, who previously opposed a similar bill, to switch their vote in favor of the Act,” claims the suit. Four Republican senators supported the bill that passed the senate by a vote of 33 to 29.
The suit lists plaintiffs including the Rev. Jason McGuire and the Rev. Duane Motley of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which primarily represents evangelical Protestants across the state and campaigned against the bill in Albany. In recent weeks, the group has announced support from the Alliance Defense Fund to defend city and town clerks who refuse to marry same-sex couples. Also named in the suit filed Monday is Rabbi Nathaniel Leiter, executive director of the New York-based Torah Jews for Decency, a group that protested before the vote with signs outside the senate lobby that said, “Homosexual Marriage Kills.” The Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group based in Virginia, represents the plaintiffs.
"It is unfortunate that state senators chose to protect their personal interests, rather than the people they were elected to represent,” said McGuire in a statement that announced the lawsuit. “Some of the players may have changed, but it looks like same old Albany game. It is time the curtain be pulled back and the disinfecting light of good government shine upon the Cuomo Administration and our state legislature.”
Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo, dismissed the lawsuit as “without merit,” saying, "The plaintiffs lack a basic understanding of the laws of the State of New York.”
The suit would appear to be a long shot for reasons including a historic reluctance on behalf of courts in New York to intervene and tell the legislature how to conduct its affairs.
The lawsuit is the first of many anticipated challenges to the law. During a rally in Manhattan on Sunday, the first day of the new marriage equality law, state senator Ruben Diaz Sr. announced that he planned to challenge weddings that bypassed the mandatory 24-hour waiting period with judicial waivers. He said that according to the state’s Domestic Relations Law, such waivers can only be issued in times of extreme emergency, imminent death or distress, conditions that he claimed the same-sex couples who had the waiting period waived could not demonstrate.