ACLU Asks Judge to Rule for Marriage Equality in New York State

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
July 1, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – Saying that “”tradition”” is not a valid reason to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union today formally asked a New York judge to strike down the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

In an 83-page motion filed with a state trial court in Albany, 13 same-sex couples asked the court to rule that excluding them and others from marriage violates the state constitution. The couples also said that preventing them from marrying denies them equal protection of the law and denies them the fundamental right to marry.

“”The state’s main defense of this law is that it upholds tradition,”” said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “”But tradition can never be enough reason to deny people the protection of the law. If it were, we would still treat women as the property of their husbands, still insist that people whose marriages had failed could not remarry, and still allow the state to tell married couples that they can’t use contraceptives.””

“”Marriage is about love and commitment,”” Esseks said. “”If two people make the commitment to build a life together, they deserve the protection of the marriage laws.””

The state will probably respond to request for a ruling at the end of July. Written arguments will likely be complete by the end of September.

Cindy Bink and Ann Pachner of West Hurley are one of the couples asking for the right to marry. “”We realize that this lawsuit could take a long time to be resolved, but we hope the judge will understand that my partner and I have been waiting for 16 years already for the chance to be married,”” said Bink. She added, “”We’re just like all other American citizens. We pay taxes, we contribute to our community, we love each other, and we only want the same rights and protections that other couples enjoy.””

Like several of the couples participating in the lawsuit, Bink and Pachner have already faced problems couples who are married don’t have to worry about. Because Pachner didn’t have health insurance and Bink’s employer didn’t offer domestic partner benefits, Bink had to leave a job she’d held for 17 years to search for a position that would allow her to cover Pachner on her health insurance policy.

The couples in the lawsuit come from many parts of the state, including Binghamton, Schenectady, Port Jervis, West Hurley, Mount Vernon, White Plains, Brooklyn and Manhattan. They also come from all walks of life, including a nurse, a New York State Assemblyman (Representative Danny O’Donnell), a shipping clerk, a New York City police officer, a high school social studies teacher, a church deacon, and a physical therapist. Many have been together for decades, and some are raising children together. One couple has grandchildren.

Some of the other couples represented by the ACLU include:

  • Sylvia Samuels and Diane Gallagher of Mount Vernon, who have been together for 24 years. Now the proud grandmothers of three grandchildren, together they raised Sylvia’s two children from a prior relationship. Sylvia is currently unable to work at her job as a computer information technology specialist due to liver cancer. With Sylvia facing grave health problems, the couple worries that Diane will not be permitted to visit Sylvia in the hospital or will be kept out of conversations about emergency medical decisions. In the summer of 2000, the couple’s fears were realized when Sylvia was hit by a car while riding a bicycle in North Carolina. Doctors would not let Diane be with Sylvia while she was unconscious in the emergency room.
  • Heather McDonnell and Carol Snyder of White Plains have been together for 14 years. Carol and Heather have also been treated as strangers during medical emergencies. After Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago, they looked for a surgeon who would understand the significance of their relationship. Even so, Heather was constantly challenged by hospital staff. In January 2003 this discrimination was repeated when Carol had a cardiac event caused by a bad reaction to medication. Even though the couple had set up health care proxies for each other, Heather was still asked to leave by a nurse at a point when Carol was on the brink of dying.
  • Michael Hahn and Paul Muhonen of Binghamton have been together for 22 years. Michael works for a local bank and Paul is a manager at a local Howard Johnson’s hotel and restaurant. Paul doesn’t have health insurance at his job, and Michael’s employer doesn’t offer domestic partner benefits. The couple understands all too clearly what it’s like to be discriminated against for being gay. When Michael relocated from Ohio to his job in Binghamton, he was promised reimbursement for moving expenses. When his employer found out that Michael has a gay partner, the employer refused to pay the moving expenses. When trying to rent a house together last year, they were turned down by the owner after he asked them point-blank if they were gay.
  • Wade Nichols of New York City is not permitted to live in the same country as his partner of five years, Francis Shen. Because of immigration laws, Francis (a Taiwanese citizen) cannot stay for long periods in the United States and Wade (a United State citizen) cannot stay for long periods in Taiwan without work sponsorship.

Biographical information for all of the couples is available at /node/22262

The couples are represented by the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, Art Eisenberg and Palyn Hung of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Roberta Kaplan and Andrew Ehrlich of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, LLP.

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