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New York appeals
court hears same-sex marriage arguments

New York appeals
court hears same-sex marriage arguments

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Appellate judges being asked to strike down a New York State law banning same-sex marriage were told Monday that gay and lesbian couples in the state are being denied a fundamental constitutional right.

Appellate judges being asked to strike down a New York State law banning same-sex marriage were told Monday that gay and lesbian couples are being denied a fundamental right under the state constitution. The appellate division of the state supreme court heard arguments in three separate cases brought on behalf of gay couples denied marriage licenses. The similar cases are among a handful that could eventually end up before the state 's highest court, the court of appeals, which is widely expected to make the ultimate judicial decision on the legality of same-sex marriage in New York. With some of the gay couples looking on, lawyers told a five-judge panel that their clients were being unfairly denied marriage-related benefits such as health insurance and favorable home-loan interest rates. "This is not a case about abstract principles. This is a case about real people...who are deprived of benefits by the state of New York," said Roberta Kaplan. Kaplan is helping the American Civil Liberties Union represent 13 same-sex couples--including the brother of comedian Rosie O'Donnell and his longtime partner--who claim that state health regulations defining marriage as being the union of only a man and a woman violate the state constitution's equal protection, privacy, and due-process provisions. Gov. George Pataki's health department and state attorney general Eliot Spitzer have said New York prohibits municipal clerks from issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Peter Schiff, senior counsel with the attorney general's office, told the judges that the plaintiffs wanted the courts to rewrite the definition of marriage. He said that job is best handled by the legislative branch of government. "It's up to the legislature to determine whether marriage should be extended to same-sex couples," he said. Schiff also argued against lawyers for 25 couples turned down for marriage licenses by the Ithaca city clerk and two couples denied licenses in Albany after being wed in a Unitarian church. Schiff faced sometimes sharp questions from judges asking what the state's interest was in barring same-sex couples from marriage. Trial-level courts have ruled against the plaintiffs. All three cases were filed last year, a time when the marriage issue roiled the country from Boston to San Francisco. The controversy landed in New York after the mayor of the Hudson Valley village of New Paltz married about two dozen gay couples in February 2004. Mayor Jason West was charged with violating the state's domestic relations law, but prosecutors dropped the charges this summer. The three cases argued Monday follow appellate-level arguments made last month in New York City on behalf of another set of gay couples. In that case, state supreme court justice Doris Ling-Cohan found that the state law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Once the appellate division renders decisions in these cases, lawyers can ask the court of appeals to consider them. Tonja Alvis and Kathy Tuggle of Schenectady, coplaintiffs in the ACLU case, said the long court fight will be worth it if they are extended the same rights and benefits of heterosexual couples. "We just want the same sense of security everyone else wakes up with," Alvis said. (AP)

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