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N.Y. Religious, Civil-Rights Groups Support Marriage

by Peter Cassels
Contributor
Monday Apr 24, 2006
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- National and state-wide religious and civil-rights organizations are urging the New York Court of Appeals to strike down state laws denying gays and lesbians marriage protections.

The organizations have filed a total of 14 friend-of-the-court briefs. The court is hearing oral arguments in lawsuits brought by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and others on behalf of same-sex couples May 31.

"It’s wrong for New York to continue to deny same-sex couples and their children equal protections for their families," said Victor Bolden, general counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, in a statement. "The constitution protects the right of individuals to marry whomever they love regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation."

The brief filed by the NAACP contends that laws barring same-sex couples from marrying are similar to laws banning inter-racial marriage that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. A brief by the New York County Lawyers Association and the National Black Justice Coalition makes similar arguments.

Nearly 200 religious organizations, congregations and clergy from throughout New York also filed a brief explaining broad support among religions for marriage equality while acknowledging that allowing gays and lesbians to marry will not force religious groups that do not wish to marry them to do so. Religious groups signing the brief include Episcopal, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ and Unitarian churches, and conservative and reform Jewish temples.

"As a pastor who has served several congregations over the past 21 years, I’ve seen first-hand the loving bonds and beautiful families that have grown out of the lasting commitments of gay, lesbian and straight couples," said the Rev. Steve Clunn of the First United Methodist Church of Schenectady. "While the U.S. Constitution guarantees that various religious groups will always be free to marry whom they please, I and many of my colleagues long for the day when the state will not stand in the way of our ability to marry same-sex couples."

The New York appeals court will be hear four separate cases on May 31, all seeking marriage for same-sex couples. Hernandez v. Robles was brought by Lambda Legal, with pro bono co-counsel Kramer, Levin Naftalis & Frankel, against Victor Robles in his official capacity as New York City clerk. Samuels and Gallagher v. New York was brought by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP against the Department of Health, which regulates marriage for most of the state. The two additional cases were brought by private lawyers on behalf of same-sex couples from Ithaca and Albany, N.Y.

Visit www.lambdalegal.org for information about the Hernandez case. Visit www.aclu.org/caseprofiles for information about Samuels and Gallagher.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is pcassels@edgepublications.com.

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