Two states say 'no' to gay marriage
New York's highest court says a constitutional right to marry does not exist. Georgia's upholds a constitutional ban.
NEW YORK — In a single day, two state high courts have ruled that same-sex marriage is not permitted in their jurisdictions.
Thursday, both the Court of Appeals in New York and the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that marriage in those states will continue to be defined as between a man and a woman. In the case of New York, any changes will have to be made by the legislature. And, the court denied that the state's 97-year-old definition of marriage violated the constitutional rights of same-sex couples.
"New York's decision is a fairly narrow view of what guarantees the state constitution provides," says Jay Weiser, a law professor at Baruch University and the lead counsel in writing a brief in support of gay marriage for the New York City Bar Association.
New York and Georgia join Arizona and Indiana high courts, which have also said there is no constitutional right to gay marriages. So far, only the Massachusetts high court has ruled in favor of full same-sex marriage rights. Vermont permits equal marriage rights under civil unions.
"So far, the courts are mixed but the majority of cases have passed defense of marriage or constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriages," says Mr. Weiser.
The issue is likely to get embroiled in state politics. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) has said he would lobby the legislature for gay-marriage rights if the court ruled as it has. State Senate majority leader Joe Bruno (R) has indicated he's not opposed to civil unions.
The issue might also become a feature this fall in the gubernatorial race. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic candidate for governor, has said he is in favor of gay marriages while his Republican opponent, John Faso, is opposed.
Gay groups promised the decision would be a catalyst for more activity.
The Empire State Pride Agenda, a statewide gay-rights organization, was set to hold rallies across the state Thursday night to protest the court's decision. Alan Van Capelle, the group's executive director, said although disappointed, he was not entirely surprised by the ruling.
"This community has never been handed anything for free," Mr. Capelle said. "I know that winning marriage will be a long battle ... and the gay community has the stamina to win gay marriage in New York."
However, Glen Lavy, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, allied with the conservative Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., was confident the court ruling would continue to uphold the current definition of marriage.
"I don't have a crystal ball," Mr. Lavy said. "You don't know what the rule is going to be, but I did not think the court was going to reverse the decision because of how strong the lower court decisions were."
"We keep hearing from the opponents to redefine marriage that they have a clear legal trend moving their way," Lavy continued. "But really what we have is a clear trend moving the other way. We only have one clear court that is an outlier – and that's Massachusetts."
Although the high court ruling in New York is final, it will probably revisit the issue when it decides whether New York will recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere.
The state Supreme Court reinstated Georgia's constitutional ban on gay marriage Thursday, just hours after New York's highest court upheld that state's gay-marriage ban.
In Georgia, the case revolved around a 2004 ballot initiative. Seventy-six percent of Georgia voters had approved a ban on gay marriage.
But opponents of the ban sued, arguing that the ballot language was misleading. The ballot measure had asked voters to decide on allowing both same-sex marriage and civil unions.
State officials argued that Georgians knew what they were voting on when they overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure.
A state judge rejected that argument, ruling that the language involved separate issues about which many people have different opinions.
Thursday, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed that ruling, deciding unanimously that the ban did not violate the state's single-subject rule for ballot measures.
• Lauren Dake contributed to this report. Wire service material was also used.