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Gay Marriage Challenge in New York Thrown Out on Appeal

A challenge to New York’s same-sex marriage law was turned back by an appeals court that ruled legislators didn’t violate state open-meeting laws in passing the measure.

The Rochester-based appellate court today ruled against New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an opponent of the June 2011 law that legalized same-sex marriage in the state. The appeals panel overturned a lower-court decision that had allowed the open-meetings claim to go forward.

“Defendant New York State Senate did not violate the Open Meetings Law in enacting the Marriage Equality Act,” the court ruled. “Marriages performed thereunder are not invalid.”

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms also argued that that the Senate improperly suspended its normal voting procedures and failed to provide a three-day review period before the vote on the bill.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Wiggins in Geneseo, New York, dismissed those arguments in November, while letting the group pursue a claim that the state Senate violated the requirement for public access when a quorum of public officials gathers to discuss state issues.

Open Meetings

The state appealed, saying the open-meetings law didn’t apply to a gathering of senators before the marriage act was passed. The plaintiffs alleged that lawmakers were pressured at the meeting to change their votes to support the bill backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“The court’s decision affirms that in our state, there is marriage equality for all, and with this decision New York continues to stand as a progressive leader for the nation,” Cuomo said in a statement after today’s ruling.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms was founded in 1982 to promote religious liberties and moral values, according to its website. It sued the state Senate the month after the marriage bill was signed into law.

Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which represents the lobbying group, said they intend to appeal the dismissal and push for more transparency in politics.

“This is not the last step in the process,” he said. “I am disappointed that the court essentially gave a green light to political strong-arm tactics that froze out the public from our political process.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called today’s decision a “victory for marriage equality.”

“We are pleased that the court upheld the Marriage Equality Act, and found no defect in the meetings that preceded the passage of this historic law,” he said in a statement.

The case is New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms v. New York State Senate, 807-2011, New York State Supreme Court, Livingston County (Rochester). The appeal is New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms v. New York State Senate, 12-ca-00313, New York Appellate Division, Fourth Department (Rochester).

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