New York, Georgia Courts Disallow Gay Marriage

Appeals courts in Georgia and New York both rule that their states do not allow same-sex marriage. Jeanne Vitale and her partner are one of the couples who had filed suit to compel New York to issue them a marriage license. Vitale talks with Madeline Brand about the decision.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

In Georgia and New York today, those states highest courts ruled against gay marriage. The courts in both states found that their marriage laws are constitutional, that marriage is limited to a relationship between a man and a woman.

In New York, the court said that any change in the law should come from the state legislature. The justices there ruled on several suits brought by 44 couples. One of the plaintiffs in the New York suit was Jeanne Vitale. I spoke with her earlier about her response to the ruling.

Ms. JEANNE VITALE (Plaintiff in New York Marriage Suit): To tell you the truth, I started to cry. I was a little disappointed. There's some financial effects, and then there's also just - it's kind of demeaning to be considered basically a second-class citizen. That's how I feel. You know, I pay taxes. I'm a citizen. I'm a grown woman with a partner of 10 years and a 22-month-old child that I've adopted. My partner had the baby. And we're a family with a house, and we're really like a boring couple. And yet, New York state doesn't consider us a family.

BRAND: You said there were financial repercussions. What were those?

Ms. VITALE: Yes, well, like the first thing would be, you know, in terms of second parent adoption - luckily New York state does have that so that if something happened to Jonie(ph), I could make decisions, medical decisions for her, etc. But we had to pay a lawyer a lot of money, and I had to go through the whole process. And, you know, that probably cost about $6,000.

And recently, too, in terms of health insurance, because we're not married, the one company that we could get health insurance from is actually dropping domestic partnership plans for sole proprietors and partners of sole proprietors. Now she's going to be on a family plan, and I'm going to have to get my own health insurance which will probably cost us about $7,200 a year. So if we were considered married or could get married, that's money we could save for college.

BRAND: And what was your argument before the court?

Ms. VITALE: The court originally was saying that part of this is a cultural thing, and our lawyers were saying that, no, just because something is cultural doesn't mean that it's right. They often referred to Loving(ph) versus Texas when blacks and whites weren't allowed to marry and that was considered a cultural argument.

Visitation rights, hospital - there's a couple that have been together 20 years, and one of them got sick and her partner wasn't allowed to go in and visit her when she had a coma because the hospital said she wasn't family. And they raised three kids. As she said, she paid for three weddings, and she's not allowed to dance at her own wedding. So our argument was that there are real fundamental disadvantages by not being allowed to be married.

BRAND: Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay marriage. Would you consider moving there?

Ms. VITALE: My family lives around here. My mother's getting older. I like being close, you know, to my brother and my sister. And we've set down roots here, so I don't think we would go and move there.

BRAND: Well then, if you're going to stay, will you work to change the law?

Ms. VITALE: Yeah. What we're hoping is that the legislature will take this up. It took about 25 years for the legislature to include gays in the non-discrimination laws here. It may be something that will help the next generation, not necessarily us. But I'm hoping that, you know, they will do the right thing.

I'm sorry. I might be rambling. I'm just a little upset, I have to say. I thought it would go this way, but the reality of it is, you know, it actually hurts a little bit, I have to say.

BRAND: Well, thank you very much.

Ms. VITALE: Thank you for talking.

BRAND: Jeanne Vitale was one of the plaintiffs challenging New York's marriage law.

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New York's High Court Upholds Gay-Marriage Ban

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York's highest court ruled Thursday that the state constitution does not require the recognition of gay marriage, rejecting arguments by same-sex couples who said state law violates their constitutional rights.

The Court of Appeals in a 4-2 decision said New York's marriage law is constitutional and clearly limits marriage to between a man and a woman. Any change in the law should come from the state Legislature, Judge Robert Smith wrote.

"We do not predict what people will think generations from now, but we believe the present generation should have a chance to decide the issue through its elected representatives," Smith wrote.

The New York ruling is part of an evolving mosaic on the volatile issue nationwide.

Just hours after the New York decision, Georgia's top court reinstated that state's constitutional ban on gay marriage on Thursday. And high courts in Washington state and New Jersey are deliberating cases in which same-sex couples argue they have the right to marry. A handful of other states have cases moving through lower courts.

But 45 states have specifically barred same-sex marriage through statutes or constitutional amendments (see the interactive map at left). Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay marriage, although Vermont and Connecticut allow same-sex civil unions that confer the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples.

The New York decision said lawmakers have a legitimate interest in protecting children by limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, and that the law does not deny homosexual couples any "fundamental right," since same-sex marriages are not "deeply rooted in the nation's history and tradition."

"It's a sad day for New York families," said plaintiff Kathy Burke of Schenectady. "My family deserves the same protections as my next-door neighbors."

Burke and her partner of seven years, Tonja Alvis, are raising her 11-year-old son.

Gov. George Pataki's health department and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office had argued that New York law prohibits issuing licenses to same-sex couples. The state had prevailed in lower appeals courts.

"I am satisfied that today's decision by the state's highest court to uphold our position that marriage is between a man and a woman is the right one," Pataki, a Republican, said in a statement. "I am also pleased that the court has reaffirmed that the Legislature is the appropriate branch of government to initiate and make any changes to existing law governing marriage."

The judges declined to follow the lead of high-court judges in neighboring Massachusetts, who ruled that same-sex couples in that state have the same right to wed as straight couples.

The four cases decided Thursday were filed two years ago when the Massachusetts decision helped usher in a spate of gay marriage controversies from Boston to San Francisco. In New York, the mayor of the Hudson Valley village of New Paltz married about two dozen gay couples in February 2004.

With little hope of getting a gay marriage bill signed into law in Albany, advocates from the ACLU, Lambda Legal and other advocacy groups marshaled forces for a court fight. Forty-four couples acted as plaintiffs in the suits, including the brother of comedian Rosie O'Donnell — Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell — and his longtime partner.

Plaintiff Regina Cicchetti said she was "devastated" by the ruling. But the Port Jervis resident said she and her partner of 36 years, Susan Zimmer, would fight on, probably by lobbying the Legislature for a change in the law.

"We haven't given up," she said. "We're in this for the long haul. If we can't get it done for us, we'll get it done for the people behind us."

In a dissent, Chief Judge Judith Kaye said the court failed to uphold its responsibility to correct inequalities when it decided to simply leave the issue to lawmakers. She noted that a number of bills allowing same-sex marriage have been introduced in the Legislature over the past several years, but none has ever made it out of committee.

"This state has a proud tradition of affording equal rights to all New Yorkers. Sadly, the court today retreats from that proud tradition," she wrote. "I am confident that future generations will look back on today's decision as an unfortunate misstep."

Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who argued on behalf of 13 couples in one of the cases, said the court's decision leaves her clients with nowhere to go but the Legislature.

Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay rights group, said his organization would immediately begin a campaign to press Albany to pass a gay-marriage bill in 2007.

Spitzer, a Democrat leading in recent polls in the governor's race, has said he favors legalizing gay marriage.

Judge Albert Rosenblatt, whose daughter has advocated for same-sex couples in California, did not take part in the decision.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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