In a 4-2 decision today, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that same-sex couples presently have no right to marriage under state law. The high-court’s stance effectively punted the matter over to the state legislature, which historically has been slow to act on behalf of gay citizens.
The following are key excerpts from the ruling, available online.
From the majority opinion:
“We hold that the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex. Whether such marriages should be recognized is a question to be addressed by the Legislature.
[. . .]
“First, the Legislature could rationally decide that, for the welfare of children, it is more important to promote stability, and to avoid instability, in opposite-sex than in same-sex relationships. Heterosexual intercourse has a natural tendency to lead to the birth of children; homosexual intercourse does not. Despite the advances of science, it remains true that the vast majority of children are born as a result of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman, and the Legislature could find that this will continue to be true. The Legislature could also find that such relationships are all too often casual or temporary.
“It could find that an important function of marriage is to create more stability and permanence in the relationships that cause children to be born. It thus could choose to offer an inducement — in the form of marriage and its attendant benefits — to opposite-sex couples who make a solemn, long-term commitment to each other. The Legislature could find that this rationale for marriage does not apply with comparable force to same-sex couples. These couples can become parents by adoption, or by artificial insemination or other technological marvels, but they do not become parents as a result of accident or impulse. The Legislature could find that unstable relationships between people of the opposite sex present a greater danger that children will be born into or grow up in unstable homes than is the case with same-sex couples, and thus that promoting stability in oppositesex relationships will help children more. This is one reason why the Legislature could rationally offer the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples only.
“There is a second reason: The Legislature could rationally believe that it is better, other things being equal, for children to grow up with both a mother and a father. Intuition and experience suggest that a child benefits from having before his or her eyes, every day, living models of what both a man and a woman are like. It is obvious that there are exceptions to this general rule — some children who never know their fathers, or their mothers, do far better than some who grow up with parents of both sexes — but the Legislature could find that the general rule will usually hold.
[. . .]
“We hold, in sum, that the Domestic Relations Law’s limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples is not unconstitutional. We emphasize once again that we are deciding only this constitutional question. It is not for us to say whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong. We have presented some (though not all) of the arguments against same-sex marriage because our duty to defer to the Legislature requires us to do so. We do not imply that there are no persuasive arguments on the other side — and we know, of course, that there are very powerful emotions on both sides of the question.”
From Judge Victoria A. Graffeo’s concurrence:
“It may well be that the time has come for the Legislature to address the needs of same-sex couples and their families, and to consider granting these individuals additional benefits through marriage or whatever status the Legislature deems appropriate. Because the New York Constitution does not compel such a revision of the Domestic Relations Law, the decision whether or not to do so rests with our elected representatives.”
In her dissent, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye called marriage a fundamental right, and argued that gay couples have had trouble wringing any rights from the legislature:
“Defendants contend that classifications based on sexual orientation should not be afforded heightened scrutiny because, they claim, homosexuals are sufficiently able to achieve protection from discrimination through the political process, as evidenced by the Legislature’s passage of SONDA in 2002. SONDA, however, was first introduced in 1971. It failed repeatedly for 31 years, until it was finally enacted just four years ago. Further, during the Senate debate on the Hate Crimes Act of 2000, one Senator noted that ‘[i]t’s no secret that for years we could have passed a hate-crimes bill if we were willing to take out gay people, if [we] were willing to take out sexual orientation. . .’ The simple fact is that New York has not enacted anything approaching comprehensive statewide domestic partnership protections for same-sex couples, much less marriage or even civil unions.
[. . .]
“The fact remains that although a number of bills to authorize same-sex marriage have been introduced in the Legislature over the past several years, none has ever made it out of committee.
[. . .]
“It is uniquely the function of the Judicial Branch to safeguard individual liberties guaranteed by the New York State Constitution, and to order redress for their violation. The Court’s duty to protect constitutional rights is an imperative of the separation of powers, not its enemy.
“I am confident that future generations will look back on today’s decision as an unfortunate misstep.”