[JURIST] The New York Court of Appeals [official website], the state's highest court, heard oral arguments [recorded video] Wednesday on whether the court should overturn the state's 97-year old statute defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. On appeal from four consolidated cases - Hernandez v. Robles [text], Samuels v. New York State Department of Health [PDF text; ACLU case materials], Matter of Kane v. Marsolais [PDF text], and Seymour v. Holcomb [PDF text] - attorneys representing 48 gay and lesbian couples argued that law should be overturned on the grounds that it defends sex discrimination, adding that state constitution does not bar gay marriage. While New York Deputy Solicitor General Peter Schiff argued that the state legislature, not the courts, should change the law, American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] attorney Robert Kaplan countered that New York has thrown out laws allowing marital rape and criminalizing sodomy, and therefore can throw out the state marriage law as well. The court's opinion is expected in about a month. Reuters has more. The Albany Times Union has local coverage.
If the New York court overturns the law, New York will become only the second state to allow same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive]. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST report] in 2003, while Vermont allows gay and lesbian couples to enjoy the benefits of marriage in civil unions. New York made national headlines last year when New Paltz Mayor Jason West married 24 gay and lesbian couples. New York prosecutors dropped charges against West for violating the state's domestic relations law [JURIST report] by marrying couples without licenses, and the New York Supreme Court banned all 24 marriages performed by West [JURIST report].