NEW YORK – A Manhattan judge ruled Friday that the city clerk cannot deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples because a state law prohibiting such unions is unconstitutional.
State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan said the law violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions.
She also compared the law to ones that once prohibited interracial marriages.
“It was only less than 40 years ago that the United States Supreme Court held that … statutes, adopted to prevent marriages between persons solely on the basis of racial classification, violate the Constitution because they infringed on the freedom to marry a person of one’s choice,” she wrote in her 62-page decision.
“Similarly, this court must so hold in the context of same-sex marriages,” she said.
Ling-Cohan said an inability to marry excludes same-sex couples from a wide range of legal protections, benefits and responsibilities.
The words husband, wife, groom and bride, as they appear in the law, “shall be construed to mean ‘spouse’ and all personal pronouns … apply equally to either men or women,” she wrote.
Ling-Cohan then stayed her order for 30 days to allow the city to appeal.
The city had not yet decided how to respond.
“We’re reviewing the decision thoroughly and considering our options,” Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo said.
The case, which was filed in March on behalf of five couples, was the first of its kind in New York. While the ruling only applies to the city, it could include the entire state if the city appeals and Ling-Cohan is upheld.
“This is a great day for New York,” said Susan Sommer, lead lawyer for the couples and senior counsel at Lambda Legal. “The court recognized that unless gay people can marry, they are not being treated equally under the law.”
Adam Grossman, a Hampton Bays, N.Y., lawyer who co-chairs the East End Gay Organization, said the ruling was a “long time coming.”
“It’s a terrific victory for the gay and lesbian community,” said Grossman, who considered a similar lawsuit on Long Island. “It has real significance.”
In an interesting twist, the judge noted that the parents of one man named in the suit had to move to California to get married in the 1960s because Texas did not allow interracial marriages.
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