New York’s highest court refused to hear a challenge to the state’s same-sex marriage law after an appeals court ruled earlier this year that legislators didn’t violate open-meeting laws in passing the measure.
The state Court of Appeals in Albany today denied a request by New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms to appeal a July decision by an appellate panel in Rochester overturning a lower-court’s decision allowing the lawsuit to proceed based only on that claim.
“New York State has served as a beacon for progressive ideals, and this statute is a clear reminder of what this state stands for: equality and justice for all,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “With the court’s decision, same-sex couples no longer have to worry that their right to marry could be legally challenged in this state.”
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms is “disappointed but not surprised by the decision,” Jason McGuire, the Spencerport-based group’s executive director, said in a phone interview.
“Every time the people have had the opportunity to vote on this issue, they’ve rejected same-sex marriage but when legislatures and the courts get involved they always see fit to reject the will of the people,” McGuire said. “Essentially this is a case that didn’t look at the morality of gay marriage but the legality of the process, the procedure by which it became law.”
The group, which according to its website was founded in 1982 to promote religious liberty and moral values, sued the state Senate a month after the same-sex marriage bill was signed into law. It said that the legislative body improperly suspended its normal voting procedures and failed to provide a three-day review period before passing 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.
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 Cuomo.
McGuire said voters “are going to have their say on the actions of the legislature,” pointing out that one incumbent politician who supported the same-sex marriage legislation -- Republican state Senator Roy McDonald of Troy -- lost his seat in a primary election.
“The part that was most troubling to us in this particular case was that the court has surrendered its rightful role as a check and balance on an out-of-control legislature,” McGuire said. “It was really the last defense against legislators that are pursuing political aspirations rather than the interests of the people they were elected to represent.”
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 State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department (Rochester).