ACLU Denounces New York High Court Decision Denying Marriage Protections for Same-Sex Couples

July 6, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

ALBANY -- The American Civil Liberties Union today denounced the New York Court of Appeals decision upholding by a 4 to 2 vote a state law that bars same-sex couples from marriage and the hundreds of family protections provided to married couples. 

“We are disappointed by the court’s decision, but we will continue to fight for marriage protections for our family,” said Amy Tripi of Highland, NY. Tripi is raising a child with her partner of nine years, Jeanne Vitale.

The court accepted the justifications advanced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for the state law barring marriage by same-sex couples.  Pointing out that stable relationships between parents are important for children, that straight couples can conceive children by “accident,” and that gay couples can only have children with advance planning, Bloomberg and Spitzer argued that straight couples need the stability of marriage, but gay couples do not. 

Accepting an argument that was rejected by the Arkansas Supreme Court just last week when it struck down a policy barring gay people from serving as foster parents, the court also found that the ban is justified because some people may think that children do better with a mother and a father.  To reach this conclusion, the court ignored the advice of leading child health and welfare organizations as well as decades of social science research proving that same-sex couples are as capable of being good parents as straight people and their children are equally well adjusted.  

“The majority of New Yorkers support marriage for committed same-sex couples.  Today’s decision by the court is disheartening given this state’s long history of tolerance and justice for gay and lesbian people and other minority groups,” said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.

Chief Justice Kaye, joined by Judge Ciparick, wrote a dissenting opinion harshly criticizing the majority opinion stating, “This state has a proud tradition of affording equal rights to all New Yorkers.  Sadly, the Court today retreats from that proud tradition.”  The dissent further stated, “I am confident that future generations will look back on today’s decision as an unfortunate misstep.”

The ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, LLP brought a challenge to the New York law on behalf of same-sex couples from throughout the state.  The New York Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on May 31 in the ACLU case and three other cases seeking marriage for same-sex couples, including a case brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of couples from New York City and separate cases brought by couples from Albany and Ithaca.

“The court has had its say, but our efforts to end discrimination against gay and lesbian couples will continue,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.  “It is time for the legislature to act.” 

Among the plaintiff couples in the ACLU lawsuit were:

  • Cindy Bink and Ann Pachner of West Hurley, NY, who have been together for 18 years.  Bink had to leave her job as a counselor at a community college in New Jersey, where she had worked for 17 years because the college did not offer domestic partner benefits.  Forced to search for a job that would allow her to cover Pachner on her health insurance policy, she finally found a job working for the City of New York that provides health care for both of them. 

  • Regina Cicchetti and Susan Zimmer, who live in Port Jervis, NY, recently celebrated their 35th anniversary.  Cicchetti has survived two life-threatening illnesses – breast cancer and a pituitary tumor – and says that she could never have made it through these crises without Zimmer’s support. The couple wants the security of knowing no questions will be asked about their relationship should one of them be hospitalized in the future.

  • John Wessell and Billy O'Connor of New York City celebrated their 27th anniversary this year.  Now nearing retirement, the couple worries that they would be barred from visiting each other in the hospital or kept out of conversations about emergency medical decisions.  Although they have wills, they also worry that their wishes will not be respected when one of them passes away.

“Lesbian and gay couples make long-term commitments and establish loving, supportive families,” said Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, who argued on behalf of the couples in the case. “There is simply no good reason for the state to refuse to provide equal family protections and equal status under the law to gay and lesbian New Yorkers.  I am confident that the courts and the legislature will come to recognize that offering the protections of marriage to one class of citizens, while denying them to another, is inconsistent with this state's core values and is unconstitutional.”

Esseks and Sharon McGowan of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, Lieberman and Arthur Eisenberg of the NYCLU and Kaplan and Andrew Ehrlich of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, LLP were the legal team representing the plaintiffs. 

Biographical information on all of the clients, the legal documents and other background materials about Samuels and Gallagher, et. al. v. New York Department of Health are available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles.

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