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New York State Top Court Declines to Hear Same-Sex Marriage Appeal

11:05 PM, Oct 23, 2012   |    comments
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By Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau

ALBANY -- New York's top court has declined to hear an appeal from a Monroe County-based group that sought to overturn the state's law allowing same-sex marriage.

The state Court of Appeals announced its decision Tuesday.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a conservative group opposed to same-sex unions, filed a lawsuit against the state Senate last year, claiming that Republicans in the chamber had violated the state's Open Meetings Law when discussing gay marriage. In particular, the group took issue with a closed-door session held in 2011 with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Senate GOP's top financial backer and a supporter of same-sex couples.

A state Supreme Court judge in Livingston County initially ruled the group's Open Meetings Law claim could proceed. But the lawsuit was unanimously tossed in July by the Appellate Division, which ruled that the Senate meetings complied with the law. The Spencerport-based group later asked the Court of Appeals for permission to argue its case to the top court -- a requirement if the Appellate Division rules unanimously.

The appeal, however, was denied by the court Tuesday. No explanation was given, as is standard procedure when the Court of Appeals declines to take on a case.

The denial likely marks the end of the road for the lawsuit, which tried to have the law thrown out on procedural grounds. The court's decision was cheered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who ushered the law through the GOP-held Senate in June 2011.

"With the Court's decision, same-sex couples no longer have to worry that their right to marry could be legally challenged in this State," Cuomo said in a statement. "The freedom to marry in this State is secure for generations to come."

Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, expressed disappointment with the decision, blasting the Court of Appeals for "not wanting to touch this political monstrosity."

"We are disappointed," he said. "Essentially we now have a court that says that they are going to not serve their proper role of a check and balance on a Legislature that has gone rogue. That's a concern."

McGuire predicted that further legal challenges to the same-sex marriage law will soon crop up, challenging whether it complies with both the state and federal constitutions. He pointed to a farm in Schagticoke, Rensselaer County, that was on the receiving end of a complaint to the state Division of Human Rights this month after the farm's management refused to allow two Albany women to wed there.

"I think now this step opens up the religious freedoms issues," McGuire said. "We now have a state law that says you have religious freedoms only within the four walls of your church, mosque or synagogue."

The Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay-and-lesbian rights group that had pushed for passage of the law, expressed confidence that it would hold up to further legal challenge.

"They'll throw anything at this law just to see if something sticks. Nothing will," executive director Nathan Schaefer said. "Nothing can stop the momentum for full equality that started right here in New York state."

Cuomo on Tuesday hailed the law as a symbol of the state's progressive credentials.

"New York State has served as a beacon for progressive ideals and this statute is a clear reminder of what this State stands for: equality and justice for all," he said in his statement.

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