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Same-sex couples in Albany, N.Y., sue over denial of marriage licenses

Same-sex couples in Albany, N.Y., sue over denial of marriage licenses

Two same-sex couples in Albany, N.Y., married by a Unitarian Universalist minister earlier this year have sued the city and state for denying them marriage licenses. Filed in state supreme court, the suit claims the Albany city clerk's office violated the couples' constitutional rights to equal protection when it refused to grant them marriage licenses. The action is the latest in a string of lawsuits aimed at forcing the courts to rule on the legality of gay marriage in the state. Unitarian Universalist pastor Samuel Trumbore in March married two same-sex couples in Albany. The couples filled out marriage contracts and Trumbore signed an affidavit of marriage, all of which were notarized. But the couples were turned away when they tried to get a license. "These folks are entitled to the same legal recognition of their marriage as any heterosexual couple, and that's what we're asking for here, plain and simple," the couples' lawyer, Terry Kindlon, said Thursday in announcing the suit. One of the couples, Elissa Kane, 41, and Lynne Lekakis, 43, have been living together since 1998 and are raising Kane's 7-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. They want their marriage recognized so they can qualify for family health insurance and file joint tax returns. "To us, it's an equality thing," Lekakis said. "We're just as responsible as any other married couple." New York State became drawn into the national debate of same-sex marriage after New Paltz mayor Jason West performed weddings for 25 gay couples in February. A judge earlier this month barred West from performing future gay weddings, but the ruling sidestepped the issue regarding the constitutionality of gay marriage, effectively leaving it up to the legislature or the courts. State attorney general Eliot Spitzer has said gay marriage is illegal in New York but could be open to a constitutional challenge. Albany city clerk John Marsolais said Thursday he is reviewing the suit. "They understand I'm doing my job, and I understand where they're coming from," Marsolais said. The state health department has maintained New York's domestic relations law does not allow marriage licenses for same-sex couples. It said a clerk issuing such a license or anyone solemnizing such a marriage would be violating state law. A spokesman for the health department, William Van Slyke, said he had not seen the suit yet. Earlier this month 25 same-sex couples calling themselves "The Ithaca 50" sued the city and state for refusing them marriage licenses. Similar lawsuits have also been filed by couples in Nyack and New York City.

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