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Marriage licenses are studied


A Nassau Sex Crime Lawyer said that, in this case, plaintiffs, members of five same-sex couples living in New York City, move for summary judgment declaring that, under the New York State Constitution, they are entitled to treatment equal to that of opposite-sex couples with regard to the issuance of marriage licenses and access to civil marriage. They contend that, insofar as New York State’s Domestic Relations Law denies marriage licenses and access to civil marriage to same-sex couples, it violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the New York State Constitution. In addition to declaratory relief, plaintiffs seek an injunction requiring defendant to grant each of the couples a marriage license.

A Criminal Lawyer said that, defendant, who is sued in his official capacity as City Clerk of the City of New York, cross-moves for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Defendant is the administrator of the New York City Marriage License Bureau and has responsibility for the issuance of marriage licenses and the solemnization of civil marriages in New York City.

A Nassau Criminal Lawyer said that, the partners in each couple have been devoted to one another for periods ranging from 3 to 22 years and represent the rich diversity of New York. Several of the couples are raising children conceived during the relationship or adopted into their homes. The individual plaintiffs come from an array of racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds and include health care professionals, a computer specialist, a textile stylist, a waiter, city planners, and a director of an emergency food assistance program. Each couple wishes to enter into a civil marriage, but was denied a marriage license by defendant clerk. Plaintiffs allege that they have suffered serious hardship because of their exclusion from civil marriage. Plaintiffs claim that without this State’s recognition of same-sex marriage, they are denied the protections, benefits, and mutual responsibilities automatically afforded to married couples by New York state law. Grand larceny was not an issue.

A Lawyer said that, defendant does not dispute that plaintiffs are serious, committed couples, devoted to building lives together as families, whose relationships are no different from those of married couples. In fact, defendant acknowledges that same-sex couples can establish committed, loving relationships and can be fine parents. Since both sides agree that there are no material facts in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate.

The issue in this case is defendant was correct in concluding that the Domestic Relations Law does not permit same-sex couples to marry.

The court in deciding the case said that, defendant does not dispute that plaintiffs and their children suffer serious burdens by being excluded from civil marriage. Marriage provides an extensive legal structure that protects the couple and any children. Although, in New York City, same-sex couples may register as “domestic partners”, the benefits are relatively minimal compared to those of civil marriage. The benefits of domestic partnership are essentially limited to visitation rights with domestic partners in city facilities, health benefits, bereavement and child care leave for city employees, and eligibility to qualify as a family member for purposes of New York City-owned or operated housing. One of the most important benefits of marriage is the securing of the bonds between parents and children and the protection of children raised in the family. For example, the children of parents in same-sex relationships are not necessarily covered by the statutory duty of support. Under state law, when a couple elects to conceive a child through donor insemination, only the married couple can ensure that at birth the child has an automatic legal parent-child relationship with each, upon their written consent. There was no Domestic Violence involved.

The Domestic Relations Law does not expressly bar same-sex marriage. Indeed, Domestic Relations Law § 10 defines rural marriage without any reference to the sex of the parties to a marriage. Domestic Relations Law § 10 provides that “marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, continues to be a civil contract, to which the consent of parties capable in law of making a contract is essential.”

So too, Domestic Relations Law § 50 provides that “property now owned by a married woman shall not be subject to her husband’s control.” Finally, for purposes of this discussion, Domestic Relations Law § 73 (1) provides that “any child born to a married woman by means of artificial insemination with the consent in writing of the woman and her husband, shall be deemed the legitimate, natural child of the husband and his wife.

The Corporation Counsel’s advice to defendant City Clerk, that he continues his long-standing practice of issuing marriage licenses only to opposite-sex couples, was largely based on these sections of the Domestic Relations Law, and on other sections that use the words “husband” and “wife.” Additionally, it was the Corporation Counsel’s view that, if a New York court found defendant’s refusal to issue licenses to same-sex couples to be unconstitutional, the court might leave it to the Legislature to rectify the constitutional infirmity. Similarly, the Attorney General of the State of New York, in an informal opinion advised that, although the Domestic Relations Law does not expressly bar marriage of same-sex couples, and while the canons of statutory interpretation instruct courts not to correct supposed omissions or defects in legislation, both the inclusion of gender-specific terms in multiple sections of the Domestic Relations Law, and the historical context in which the Domestic Relations Law was enacted, indicate that the Legislature did not intend to authorize same-sex marriage.

This court agrees. The opinions of the Corporation Counsel and the Attorney General are consistent with that of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which held that, although the Massachusetts marriage licensing statute did not expressly bar same-sex marriage, in interpreting the statute, the court must do so “to carry out the Legislature’s intent.” In addition, the consanguinity provisions of the Domestic Relations Law, like those in the Massachusetts statute, expressly bar marriage between certain male and female relatives; here, brother and sister, uncle and niece, or aunt and nephew. It would be absurd to suggest that, by failing to expressly bar same-sex marriages, such as those between brother and brother, sister and sister, uncle and nephew, or aunt and niece, the Legislature was, in fact, authorizing such marriages.

As the Attorney General suggested in his opinion, the reason that there is no mention of same-sex marriage in the Domestic Relations Law, or in the legislative history thereof, appears to be that the Legislature had no experience with such marriage at the time of enactment and amendment of the relevant statutes. This court concludes that, notwithstanding the absence of an express exclusion, the Domestic Relations Law does not authorize same-sex marriage.

As a threshold matter, this court notes that the protections of the New York Constitution extend beyond those found in the Federal Constitution, which sets the floor, but not the ceiling, for the rights of the individual. Further, where state law interferes with liberty rights, it is the role of the court to scrutinize the challenged legislative act. The New York Court of Appeals reiterated this vital judicial obligation recently in declaring that a provision of the Criminal Procedure Law violated the state guarantee of due process: “The Court plays a crucial and necessary function in our system of checks and balances. It is the responsibility of the judiciary to safeguard the rights afforded under our State Constitution.” Here, plaintiffs contend that the Domestic Relations Law’s bar against same-sex marriage violates the New York Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

It was only less than 40 years ago that the United States Supreme Court held that anti-miscegenation statutes, adopted to prevent marriages between persons solely on the basis of racial classification, violate the Constitution because they infringed on the freedom to marry a person of one’s choice. Similarly, this court must so hold in the context of same-sex marriages.

Marriage is, without a doubt, the cornerstone of the family and our civilization. As marriage constitutes the most intimate of relationships, the decision of whom and when to marry is highly personal, involving complex reasons which vary from individual to individual. Thus, the decision to marry should rest primarily in the hands of the individual, with little government interference. The Supreme Court has “routinely categorized the decision to marry as among the personal decisions that are protected by the right of privacy.”

Marriage provides an extensive legal structure that honors and protects a couple’s relationship, helps support the family and its children through an unparalleled array of rights and responsibilities, and privileges a married couple as a single financial and legal unit. As discussed previously, notwithstanding that New York City same-sex couples may register as “domestic partners,” such benefits are relatively minimal compared to civil marriage. Plaintiffs’ inability to marry excludes them from the vast range of statutory protections, benefits, and mutual responsibilities automatically afforded to married couples by New York law and are unconstitutional for the foregoing reasons.

Similar to opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples are entitled to the same fundamental right to follow their hearts and publicly commit to a lifetime partnership with the person of their choosing. The recognition that this fundamental right applies equally to same-sex couples cannot legitimately be said to harm anyone.

While, undeniably, religious institutions have a historical and spiritual interest in marriage and the recognition of those married under their tenets, ultimately it is the government’s choice as to which relationships to recognize as valid civil marriages and whether, and the degree to which, legal protections, burdens and privileges should be conferred on that civil institution. The court recognizes that this decision may cause pain to some in that their religious convictions forbid the recognition of same-sex marriage. However, the court emphasizes that government recognition that same-sex couples may be civilly married does not impact on those married under the tenets of their individual faith, and does not require that religious institutions change their tenets, nor their definition of marriage under their faith. Moreover, such religious considerations cannot legally be the basis upon which to curtail the constitutional rights of plaintiffs.

Furthermore, that prejudice against gay people may still prevail elsewhere cannot be a legitimate justification for maintaining it in the marriage laws of this State. “Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect.”

Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is granted; it is further ordered that defendant’s cross motion for summary judgment is denied; it is further adjudged and declared that the Domestic Relations Law violates article I, §§ 6 and 11 of the Constitution of this State; it is further adjudged and declared that the words “husband,” “wife,” “groom” and “bride,” as they appear in the relevant sections of the Domestic Relations Law, are and shall be construed to mean “spouse,” and all personal pronouns, as they appear in the relevant sections of the Domestic Relations Law, are and shall be construed to apply equally to either men or women; and it is further ordered that defendant is permanently enjoined from denying a marriage license to any couple, solely on the ground that the two persons in that couple are of the same sex.

If you are a victim of sex crimes, seek the help of a Nassau Criminal Attorney or Nassau Sex Crime Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates in order to know how you can file a case against the person who abuses you.

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