Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Appeals court upholds Westchester County's recognition of gay marriages performed out of state | | The Journal News

Here is the article written in our local paper on the court victory

Appeals court upholds Westchester County's recognition of gay marriages performed out of state | | The Journal News

By Keith Eddings
The Journal News • January 7, 2009

WHITE PLAINS - A state appeals court has upheld an unflinching ruling by a lower court that Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano did not violate the state constitution or earlier court rulings when he ordered county departments to recognize gay marriages legally performed in other states and countries.

Spano's 2006 executive order had little practical impact because the county bestows only a handful of minor rights on married couples, including the right to buy family passes to county parks. But advocates say the two rulings upholding Spano's order multiplied its limited impact by affirming that localities are free to recognize gay couples who marry in Connecticut and Massachusetts and the handful of nations that allow gay couples to wed, including Canada.

The unanimous ruling by the Appellate Division in Brooklyn is the second in a year to include gay couples in the state's tradition of recognizing marriages performed elsewhere even if the marriages could not be legally performed here. In February, an appeals court in Rochester ruled that Monroe County must provide health benefits to the woman, a female county worker married in Canada.

"Marriage has come to New York for same-sex couples," said Susan Sommer, senior counsel with Lambda Legal, a gay rights group in New York City that defended Spano's order against the four Westchester residents who filed it. She said the next step is for the state "to allow same sex couples to marry here at home instead of having to travel to a foreign country or another state."

A gay marriage bill passed the Assembly but went nowhere in the Senate, where the Republicans who controlled that chamber until this week refused to allow it to a vote. Democrats now control the Senate, but their support for gay marriage is not unanimous.

The lawsuit against Spano's order was brought by George Imburgia and Margaret Godfrey of New Rochelle and Rosemarie Jarosz and Joseph Rossini of Mount Vernon.

"I have nothing against gay people," Imburgia said yesterday. "My only argument is against same-sex marriage. It goes against the natural order of things. Man and woman were put on this Earth to perpetuate the human race. What is same-sex marriage going to perpetuate?"

Michael Sabatino of Yonkers, who married Robert Voorheis in Canada in 2003 and intervened with Voorheis as defendants in the case, said his marriage means more then that.

"Robert and I are pleased that the court has reaffirmed that our relationship will be honored in the community where we live and where we make our life together as a married couple," Sabatino said yesterday.

The appeals court ruling hinged on technical issues, unlike the more ringing endorsement of gay marriage rights that state Supreme Court Justice Joan Lefkowitz issued last year, which was upheld last week.

The appeals court said in its 4-0 ruling that the declaratory judgment the four plaintiffs sought against Spano could only be issued to correct grievous government misconduct, and said Imburgia, Godfrey, Jarosz and Rossini were not directly harmed by Spano's order and so lacked standing.

The court said Spano's order was legal because it was narrow.

"The executive order at issue here requires that same-sex marriages be recognized to the 'maximum extent allowed by law,' " the judges said, quoting from Spano's order. "By its terms, therefore, the executive order can never require recognition of such a marriage where it would be outside the law to do so. Since it is within the authority of the county executive (to execute and enforce state laws), the executive order is not illegal."

Susan Tolchin, Spano's chief adviser, said Spano has not wavered from his commitment to his order.

"We never for a moment thought we'd lose this case because of the issues involved," Tolchin said.

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