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Challenge to New York same-sex marriage act allowed to proceed

A judge for the New York Supreme Court for Livingston County [official website] has ruled [order, PDF] that a constitutional challenge to the state law legalizing same-sex marriage may proceed. Judge Robert Wiggins refused to dismiss the lawsuit [JURIST report] filed in July by New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms [advocacy website, press release, PDF] on the theory that there is a justiciable issue as to whether Governor Andrew Cuomo [official website] committed a procedural violation in passing New York's Marriage Equality Act [text, PDF] earlier this year. By invoking a rule in which the governor may certify facts necessitating an immediate vote on the bill, Cuomo circumvented the state constitution's requirement that any bill be printed and on the desks of legislators for three days before any vote. The State Attorney General's Office [official website] filed briefs in an effort to dismiss the suit, but the judge held there were not sufficient facts before the court to determine the legitimacy of the plaintiffs' allegation that Cuomo's private meeting with Republican members of the Senate, in which he urged them to "break the party's position and vote for the bill" prior to its passage, constituted a violation of the state's Open Meetings Law [text]. Wiggins also criticized Cuomo for certifying in the first place that the bill needed to be voted on immediately, calling the cite by the governor "disingenuous" but noting that the court "is reluctantly obliged to rule 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." To avoid the 72-hour rule, Cuomo cited the need to immediately remedy the denial of more than 50,000 same-sex couples the "critical protections of different-sex couples, including hospital visitation, inheritance and pension benefits." In his decision, Wiggins emphasized that the court was not expressing any opinion on same-sex marriage, but was only considering issues concerning the procedures the New York Legislature followed when passing the Marriage Equality Act.

Cuomo signed legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry [JURIST report] in the state on June 24. The New York State Senate [official website] had passed the Marriage Equality Act 33-29 earlier that same day following weeks of negotiations. The act eliminates any legal distinctions between opposite-sex and same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] and specifies that no clergy member will be forced to perform a marriage ceremony and that any refusing clergy member will not be subject to legal action. The New York State Assembly passed the bill [JURIST report] earlier in the month 80-63, and the law went into effect on July 25. Shortly after the bill's passage William Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation argued that the legislation sets a bad precedent and is possibly unconstitutional [JURIST comment] due to the very violations of procedural requirements that have allowed the challenge to proceed. The New York State Assembly had passed same-sex marriage bills before in 2007 and in 2009, but the bills were unable to pass the Senate [JURIST reports].

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