When the Marriage Equality Act passed in the New York State Senate on June 24, 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo quickly signed it into law. When it went into effect 30 days later, same-sex couples had the right to enter into civil marriages and receive the same legal protections afforded opposite-sex couples.
Almost immediately, opponents to same-sex marriage looked for a way to take the bill down. One tact by the anti same-sex marriage group New Yorkers For Constitutional Freedoms was to sue because they alleged, in rushing the bill through so quickly, Governor Cuomo and the state legislature had violated the state’s Open Meeting Law.
Governor Cuomo said, of course, that this is non-sense, and any lawsuit saying this should be thrown out. But a State Supreme Court judge in Livingston County has ruled that there’s merit to this challenge and will let a lawsuit proceed, on limited grounds.
Judge Robert Wiggins writes strongly (and at times, almost sarcastically) about why he sees that there’s ample room for someone to sue that the Open Meetings Law was violated during the run-up to the vote on the Marriage Equality Act. Although he writes that (CAPS his) “Any decision by this Court MUST stress that this Court has no authority to voice its opinion on same-sex marriage,” he also writes with great annoyance, almost, at the way the bill became a law, even when he cites topics he can’t rule on.
Some highlights (emphasis ours):
— “Logically and clearly this cite by the Governor is disingenuous. The review of such concept altering legislation for three days after generations of existing definitions would not so damage same-sex couples as to necessitate an avoidance of rules meant to ensure full review and discussion prior to any vote. Nonetheless, this Court is reluctantly obliged to rule that that the message of necessity submitted by the Governor was accepted by vote of the Senate, and is NOT within this Court’s province to nullify.”
— “It is ironic that much of the State’s brief passionately spews sanctimonious verbiage on the separation of powers in the governmental branches, and clear arm-twisting by the Executive on the Legislative permeates the entire process.”
— “Logic would seem to dictate that the additional requirement was added to eliminate the artificial use of necessities meant only to ‘strike while the iron is hot’ (or while the vote is as desired). Regardless, although the disregard for the statute seems evident, the Court feels constrained to not rule on the Governor’s certification of necessities
— “Act III Section 10 of the constitution holds that the doors of the house shall be kept open except when the public welfare requires secrecy. There is no demonstration that the public welfare on this issue required secrecy.
— “Considering Plaintiff’s allegations, and without deciding the matter at this time, the Court feels there is a justifiable issue presented whether there was a violation of the Open Meeting Law.”
Why was this lawsuit filed in Livingston County, out of all 62 counties in the state? A commenter on Capital Tonight’s blog shared a sentiment several people on Twitter seem to share, writing they suspected NYCFM “filed the suit in rinky dink Livingston County [because] [i]t’s no doubt a place so backwards and inbred that the kids all have webbed feet.”
We’ve reached out to Marriage Equality New York for their reaction.
Regardless of the reasons for the venue, Wiggins’s ruling is clearly a legal victory for NYFCM, even though the scope of their lawsuit must proceed on somewhat targeted grounds.
Here’s the full ruling.