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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) in New York State

2011-SEP to NOV developments: Anti-SSM lawsuit.
Catholic Archbishop anti-SSM statement.

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The acronym LGBT refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,
and transsexual communities. SSM refers to same-sex marriage.

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This topic continues from a previous essay

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2011-SEP-23: Attorney General files papers to have NYCF case dismissed:

According to the, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has filed papers to try to have the New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms et al. v. New York State Senate et al. case dismissed. He requested a hearing in Livingston County Court for 2011-OCT-17.

Sarah Warbelow is state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign. She said that the plaintiffs and their organizations:

"Have not shown that they've been harmed in any way either by the law itself or by their inability, as they claim, to be a part of the process ... because the Senate ... made a lot of decisions behind closed doors but that's very typical in all legislative processes. ... They're making a last ditch attempt at dismissing a law that's already gone into effect and has no bearing on their lives."

She said that the wording of the law made a challenge almost inevitable:

"The bill has a clause at the end that essentially says if any part of this law is found to be unconstitutional, the entire bill is null and void. That's not typical ... Most bills have what we call a severability clause which means if (there is something wrong with) any part of the bill, the court can strike down just that section and leave the rest of the bill intact."

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said:

"This is the most frivolous lawsuit I've ever seen. I think ... they know it [will be dismissed], they're putting on a show in order to raise money from their followers. The case is obviously in very good hands with the attorney general. ... [The lawsuit is just a last attempt by] anti-gay(s) [to invalidate the law]. I know that the anti-gay forces are as desperate as they can to throw up as much dust as possible but the people of New York wanted this law. Families are rejoicing in the celebration of marriage and no one has lost anything"

Gregory T. Angelo, State Chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans, said:

"I can't say that I'm surprised. I can certainly say I'm disappointed. Right now we have gays and lesbians that have equal rights in terms of civil marriage. No one has encroached upon anyone's religious freedoms, as the attorney general's response says, the law has harmed no one. It has only granted equal rights to those who didn't have them before. It didn't take any rights away from anyone.

This is one of the few instances in which Log Cabin Republicans actually agrees with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The points that he brings up in his opposition to this lawsuit are all valid and I see this lawsuit also as being a blip on the screen that was filed by people who are really suffering from a case of sour grapes more than anything else." 1

Many social and religious conservatives would disagree with Wolfson's and Angelo's statements. They see the law as requiring all New Yorkers to accept a redefinition of marriage to include all loving, committed couples, irrespective of gender. They regard the freedom to live in a state that restricts marriage to opposite-sex couples to be their religious right.

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2011-OCT-18: Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York issues anti-SSM decree:

Recent public opinion polls show that the Roman Catholic laity has a slightly higher level of support for same-sex marriage than does the general American population. Perhaps in response to this enthusiasm by the membership of the Catholic Church for marriage equality, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York City and surrounding area issued what appears to be a redundant decree. He announced that priests and deacons are forbidden from performing same-sex marriages on Roman Catholic property or with anything consecrated by the Roman Catholic Church.

He wrote:

"The intimate partnership of life and lover that constitutes the married state was established by God and endowed by Him with its own proper nature and laws. According to Divine law, the nature of marriage is defined as a covenant between one man and one woman by which they establish a partnership of the whole life, which is ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. ... the Church has the authority and the serious obligation to affirm the authentic teaching on marriage, and to preserve and foster the supremely sacred value of the married state.

For millennia, civil authority recognized the true nature of marriage. The marital union between one man and one woman was universally accepted by civil law as a constitutive element of human society, which is vital to the human family and to the continuation of the human race. In reversal of this tradition, the New York State Legislature recently enacted a law that recognized same-sex union as marriages in the State of New York. This law is irreconcilable with the nature and the definition of marriage as established by Divine law."

The decree prohibits any priest, deacon or person acting as an employee of the church from participating in a civil same-sex marriage. Such marriages cannot be solemnized in any Catholic location, including parishes, missions, chapels, meeting halls, educational health or charitable institutions of benevolent orders. No items like vessels, vestments, liturgical books, etc may be used. 2

Many commentators would disagree with Archbishop Dolan's comments about SSM. It is true that "The marital union between one man and one woman was universally accepted by civil law as a constitutive element of human society, which is vital to the human family and to the continuation of the human race." However, he appears to be in error with his comment that New York has instituted a "reversal of this tradition." Nothing has impacted the right of any opposite-gendered couple to marry. The only change made by the legislation is that same-sex couples can also marry. What Archbishop Dolan has written supports the refusal of the Roman Catholic Church to support marriage equality. However, governments in the U.S. are not required to follow the teaching of any one faith group. In fact, it would seem that they are required by the equal access and anti-sexual discrimination passages in various constitutions to not follow the Church in this case.

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2011-NOV-29: Lawsuit to overturn same-sex marriage legislation will proceed:

The lawsuit filed by New Yorkers For Constitutional Freedoms will proceed. It attempts to declare the same-sex marriage legislation null and void, and to forcibly divorce all of the same-sex couples who had been married in the state.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Wiggins rejected all of the complaints by the plaintiffs, except for one. He determined that, during the rush to pass the law before the end of the legislative session, the New York Senate may have violated the state's open meeting law. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman argued that the meetings involved, which were by the Republican caucus, are exempt from the state law, even though guests were in attendance.

According to Raw Story:

"The state's Open Meetings Law exempts 'deliberations of political committees, conferences and caucuses,' which the state argued included the Senate's meetings with Cuomo. The Christian group said Cuomo's presence made the meetings distinct from legislative conferences. 3

In other words, the Republican Senate Caucus can meet in private; they can ask various state financial and municipal political leaders to join them, but the presence of the Governor changes the character of the meeting to the degree that the general public must be allowed to be present.

The judge also criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo for issuing a message of necessity for proposing immediate vote on the legislation on the final evening of the legislative session. The normal voting procedure involves a wait of three days, which would have delayed a vote until the next legislative session. 4,5

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Felicia Kreig, "Same-sex lawsuit nothing but 'a case of sour grapes,' gay rights advocates say," Legislative Gazette, 2011-SEP-26, at:
  2. Timothy Nolan, "Decree," 2011-OCT-18, at:
  3. "Judge allows suit challenging New York same-sex marriage law," Reuters. 2011-NOV-29. at:
  4. "State Judge Permits Lawsuit That Could Overturn Same-Sex Marriage," NY1 News, 2011-NOV-30, at:
  5. The text of Judge Wiggins' ruling is at:

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Copyright © 2011 and 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-JUN-26
Latest update: 2012-APR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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