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New York Court Rules Gays Must Be Allowed To Marry

February 4, 2005

(New York City) A New York State court ruled Friday that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry.

State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan said that the New York State Constitution guarantees basic freedoms to lesbian and gay people, and that those rights are violated when same-sex couples are not allowed to marry.

The ruling said the state Constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage, and that the couples represented by Lambda Legal must be given marriage licenses.

"This is a historic ruling that delivers the state Constitution's promise of equality to all New Yorkers," said Susan Sommer, Supervising Attorney at Lambda Legal and the lead attorney on the case.

"The court recognized that unless gay people can marry, they are not being treated equally under the law. Same-sex couples need the protections and security marriage provides, and this ruling says they're entitled to get them the same way straight couples do."

Lambda filed the suit last March in Manhattan on behalf of Daniel Hernandez, 46, and Nevin Cohen, 42, a gay couple who have been together for over six years.

The suit argued that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the state Constitution's guarantee of equality for all New Yorkers.

The case was the first of its kind to be filed in New York since the Massachusetts high court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to full marriage under that state's Constitution.

When the suit was filed Hernandez said the couple was looking for the same rights as those enjoyed by his parents.

"We're lucky to both have parents who've been happily married for more than 50 years," said Hernandez. "Is it too much to want that for ourselves?

Ultimately, though, the legality of gay marriage in New York is likely to be decided by the Court of Appeal.

Yesterday an Albany court ruled that marriage is not a fundamental right.

Two couples, Elissa Kane and Lynne Lekakis, and Robert Barnes and George Jurgastis, were married last year by a Unitarian Universalist minister in Albany

But when they tried to get marriage licenses from the Albany City Clerk's office they were refused. The four sued Albany and the state Health Department, claiming Domestic Relations Law is gender neutral and marriages without licenses are still legally binding.

On Thursday, Justice E. Michael Kavanagh said state law doesn't specifically bar giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples; it just requires two people to be of age and legally competent.

However, Kavnagh rule, "the statute is replete with other references ... that this was, in fact, the intent that marriage be reserved for couples of the opposite sex."

By Beth Shapiro New York Bureau




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