Gay marriage goes to New York court

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New York’s highest court heard oral argument yesterday in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit seeking marriage for same-sex couples.

“Today is an historic day for same-sex couples and their families in New York,” said Susan Sommer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal and lead attorney on the case.

“Our clients Mary Jo Kennedy and Jo-Ann Shain hope to be able to celebrate their 25th anniversary together next year as lawfully wedded spouses. I hope that what the Court heard today showed them why the unconstitutional practice of barring such couples from marriage in New York needs to come to a swift end.”

Lambda Legal’s lawsuit Hernandez v Robles was the first case seeking the right to marry for same-sex couples that the New York Court of Appeals agreed to hear. Three additional cases seeking the right for same-sex couples to marry in New York were also heard.

The Court heard arguments for two hours and 20 minutes.

“In 1966, my parents couldn’t get married in many states because my father is black and my mother is white; in 2006, I hope to marry my partner,” said Curtis Woolbright, who along with his partner, Daniel Reyes, is one of five couples seeking the right to marry in New York represented by Lambda Legal.

“Should Daniel and I be privileged to have our own children, we hope that they will be able to one day look back with the same shock and astonishment that I felt when my parents told me that there was a time in our country when two people who loved each other and wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of their lives together and make a family together were denied that right in many states.”

Lambda Legal filed Hernandez v Robles in March 2004. The lawsuit seeks marriage for same-sex couples in New York and argues that denying these couples marriage violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality, liberty and privacy for all New Yorkers.

The trial court issued its ruling in the couples’ favour in February 2005, and New York City decided to appeal. The mid-level appeals court handed down its decision in the City’s favour in December, and Lambda Legal appealed to the Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court).

In addition to Hernandez v Robles, Lambda Legal has filed similar cases seeking marriage for same-sex couples in California (with lead counsel, the National Centre for Lesbian Rights, and the ACLU), Washington (with the Northwest Women’s Law Centre), New Jersey and Iowa. A decision from the Washington Supreme Court in the Andersen v. King County case is imminent, and oral argument in the New Jersey case was held on February 15, 2006.

Susan Sommer, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal, is lead counsel on Hernandez v. Robles. David Buckel, Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project Director, and Alphonso David, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney, are also working on the case. Jeffrey S. Trachtman and Norman C. Simon of Kramer, Levin, Naftalis Frankel of New York are cooperating counsel.

A decision is expected over the next couple of months.