FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | July 6, 2006
California Courts Unlikely to Follow New York's Lead, says National Center for Lesbian Rights
(San Francisco, CA, July 6, 2006) — New York's highest state court ruled today that excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not violate the New York Constitution. In a 4-2 decision authored by Judge Robert Smith, the Court of Appeals held that New York's marriage law is constitutional even though it deprives children with same-sex parents of equal legal protections. Judge Smith wrote, "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 opposite-sex relationships will help children more."
In a dissenting opinion, Chief Judge Judith Kaye accused the court of retreating from its "proud tradition of affording equal rights to all New Yorkers." According to Judge Kaye, "future generations will look back on today's decision as an unfortunate misstep." Judge Kaye rejected the majority's argument that it is rational for the state to penalize same-sex parent families. "The State plainly has a legitimate interest in the welfare of children," she wrote, "but excluding same-sex couples from marriage in no way furthers this interest. In fact, it undermines it." Noting that "tens of thousands of children are currently being raised by same-sex couples in New York," Judge Kaye concluded that depriving these children of the protections of marriage "is antithetical to their welfare."
The Court's decision today was issued in four consolidated appeals: Hernandez v. Robles, Samuels v. New York State Department Health, Seymour v. Holcomb, and Kane v. Marsolais. Lambda Legal was counsel in the Hernandez case; the ACLU was counsel in the Samuels case.
On July 10, 2006, the California Court of Appeal will hear oral arguments in Woo v. California and five other cases that will decide whether excluding same-sex couples from marriage violates the California Constitution. The National Center for Lesbian Rights is lead counsel in Woo v. California. Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, will be arguing before the Court in Woo and three other cases. The July 10, 2006 argument will be held at the First Appellate District Court of Appeal in San Francisco; argument will begin at 9:00 a.m.
Unlike California and many other states, New York has taken no affirmative steps to protect lesbian or gay couples. New York has no statewide civil union or domestic partner protections. In addition, New York courts have rejected almost every claim by same-sex couples to be treated equally with regard to important issues such as the ability to bring a wrongful death suit on behalf of a surviving same-sex partner. Although New York permits same-sex couples to adopt, it is one of a small minority of states that refuses to provide any statutory or judicial protections for children who are raised by same-sex parents outside of adoption. In contrast, California and most other states have held that such children of same-sex couples must be given the same protections as children of heterosexual parents, either under parentage statutes or judicially-created doctrines such as de facto parentage or psychological parentage.
SHANNON MINTER, LEGAL DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR LESBIAN RIGHTS MADE THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT:
"California courts are unlikely to be swayed by the reasoning in today's decision. Unlike New York, the California legislature and California courts have taken a strong stand that lesbian and gay parents and their children need and deserve equal legal protections. Because of this clear policy, a California court could not accept a desire to treat some families as superior to others as a legitimate basis for discrimination in marriage. In California, the law is clear that the government cannot discriminate against children based on the gender or sexual orientation of their parents. The California Supreme Court resoundingly affirmed this legal principle last year in its trio of decisions involving children of lesbian parents. The legislature affirmed this principle when it enacted AB 205, which mandates that children of same-sex couples have the same protections as children born to heterosexual couples, and again last year when the legislature passed a law to eliminate marriage discrimination against lesbians and gay men. The governor vetoed the law, but the legislature's desire to remove the last remaining obstacle to full equality for lesbians and gay men is clear. New York has lagged behind California in providing equal protections for same-sex couples and their families for decades.
California law differs from New York in another important respect as well. Unlike New York, California has a long history of interpreting our state constitution to provide stronger and broader protections for civil liberties than the federal constitution. The California Supreme Court struck down laws barring interracial marriage in 1948, almost twenty years before the U.S. Supreme Court finally did so in 1967.
Our courts have a proud legacy of standing up for personal dignity and individual freedom. We are confident they will continue to do so for lesbian and gay people as well."
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.