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A mid-level state appeals court on Thursday upheld New York's marriage law as constitutional, handing a defeat to same-sex couples seeking to be married in the state. The five-judge panel ruled 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.
The supreme court appellate division's ruling keeps the status quo on same-sex marriage. Thursday's decision follows a 4-1 December ruling by the supreme court's appellate division in New York City to reverse a lower court decision that would have permitted same-sex couples to wed in New York City.
The couples claim state health regulations defining marriage as being only a union between 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.
In October, Peter Schiff, senior counsel with the state attorney general's office, argued before the appellate court 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. The court agreed. "In our opinion, the legislature is where the changes to marriage" should be addressed, Justice John Lahtinen wrote in the 5-0 decision.
Trial-level courts had also ruled against the plaintiffs. All three cases were filed in 2004 when the same-sex 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 same-sex couples in February 2004. "We look forward to the day soon when the court of appeals will resolve this question once and for all," said Susan Sommer, senior lawyer with Lambda Legal, the gay rights organization that spearheaded the same-sex marriage drive. "We can't wait for our day in court when the state constitution will be upheld and the rights of these families will be honored." (AP)