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Lawyers for Ithaca, N.Y., gay couples present case to judge

Lawyers for Ithaca, N.Y., gay couples present case to judge

Attorneys for 25 Ithaca, N.Y., same-sex couples seeking the right to marry said Friday that the state's opposition to gay marriage is akin to the mentality that once allowed slavery and discrimination against women and minorities. "The basis of the [the state's] opposition is that it goes against tradition. If tradition carried on, we would still have slavery," said Mariette Geldenhuys, one of the attorneys for the same-sex couples, who have been dubbed the "Ithaca 50." Geldenhuys, in arguments before state supreme court justice Robert Mulvey, also pointed out that the state made it illegal in 2002 to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and also allows same-sex couples to adopt children. "The court has the opportunity and obligation to change the marriage laws to bring them into harmony with the expressed public policy of this state," Geldenhuys said. Jim McGowan, an attorney for the state, argued that the institution of marriage as a union of a man and a woman has a long history that predates the Bill of Rights. He also argued that the court is obligated to follow past court decisions that upheld the state's prohibition against same-sex marriages. Mulvey did not make a ruling on Friday and has 60 days to do so. The state has prevailed in two similar cases. The 25 couples applied for marriage licenses early in 2004 and were turned down by the Ithaca city clerk, who was following a state health department advisory not to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The couples then sued the city and the state in June. The city followed with a cross-claim to support the couples, and Ithaca city attorney Martin Luster said the state's position on same-sex marriage is outdated. Attorneys for the couples also argued Friday that denying their clients the right to marry denies them their equal protection and due process rights under both the state and federal constitutions. But McGowan said that even if New York were to allow same-sex marriages, the unions would not be recognized by the federal government. Many of the couples attended Friday's 45-minute hearing. "The state makes the same old tired arguments," said Jim Pelton, who owns a house with his partner of seven years. "Civil rights are civil rights." "We live together. We own houses. We have children. We are not any different than anyone else, and we deserve the same treatment," said Terri Niedzialek, who has been with her partner for five years. Though encouraged to have their day in court, the couples acknowledged that resolution is likely years away since any ruling by Mulvey is likely to be appealed to a higher court. "We knew the fight was going to be long and involve multiple steps in the court process," said Jason Seymour, who has lived with his partner for seven years. "We are prepared to go the distance because this is something we all believe is worth fighting for."

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