N.Y. City to Appeal Judge’s Decision Overturning State Law Against Gay Marriage

February 7, 2005

New York City will appeal a judge’s ruling against the state ban on same-sex marriages, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Saturday.

The mayor said that while he believes such marriages should be permitted, “if we did not appeal this I think we would have chaos in this city. … There would be tens of thousands of people coming here.”

He said he wanted the issue to be settled in the state’s highest court or in the Legislature because “the public serves the finality.”

Referring to a short-lived wedding spree in San Francisco after the mayor there granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Bloomberg said, “What you do not want to have is a repetition of California, when many people for a month were misled into thinking they could get the union they so much wanted. … Their great joy was snatched away.”

State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ruled Friday that the state law in unconstitutional, finding in favor of five same-sex couples who had been denied marriage licenses by the city. The judge said the city clerk may not deny a license to any couple solely because the two are of the same sex.

“Under both the federal and New York State constitutions, it is beyond question that the right to liberty, and the concomitant right to privacy, extend to protect marriage,” Ling-Cohan wrote.

She stayed her decision for 30 days, which the mayor said indicated that she felt it “should go to a higher court.”

“I’m glad the judge ruled this way because it gets us the ability to get this to the appellate court,” Bloomberg said at the opening of the Lunar New Year Flower Market.

If upheld on appeal, the first-of-its-kind ruling in New York would clear the way for gay couples to wed. The ruling applies only in the city, but could extend statewide if upheld by the Court of Appeals in Albany.

Gay rights activists hailed the ruling as a historic victory that “delivers the state Constitution’s promise of equality to all New Yorkers.”

“The court recognized that unless gay people can marry, they are not being treated equally under the law,” said Susan Sommer, a Lambda Legal Defense Fund lawyer who presented the case. “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.”

The judge ordered a copy of her decision sent to the state attorney general, who was not involved in the case. Calls to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office were not immediately returned.

Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, said he was “disappointed” by the decision. “Redefinition of a law’s terms is for the legislature to do, not for a judge. She’s an activist judge legislating from the bench.”

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