Antigay Groups Ask To Enter Lambda Legal Lawsuit that Seeks Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in New York State

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"These antigay groups cannot show that they will be harmed in any way if same-sex couples are allowed to marry."
April 20, 2004

(New York, April 20, 2004) - Antigay groups are asking a Manhattan court to let them intervene in a lawsuit filed last month by same-sex couples seeking the right to marry in New York, Lambda Legal said today. Lambda Legal represents the five lesbian and gay New York City couples in the first of several recent lawsuits filed in the state seeking full marriage for same-sex couples.

In legal papers asking to become a party in Lambda Legal’s case, the antigay groups claim they would be harmed if same-sex couples are allowed to marry in New York - claims Lambda Legal said have been rejected by courts in other states, including New Jersey, California and Florida. The groups include the Liberty Counsel (of Longwood, FL), the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy (of Tupelo, MS), the Thomas More Law Center (of Ann Arbor, MI), the New York Family Policy Council and Michael Long, Chairman of the Conservative Party of New York.

“These antigay groups cannot show that they will be harmed in any way if same-sex couples are allowed to marry. Allowing our clients and other New York couples to marry and protect their families does nothing to hurt the marriages of their heterosexual neighbors,” said Susan Sommer, Supervising Attorney at Lambda Legal and lead attorney on the case. “The real harm here is to loving same-sex couples who are being denied marriage, and that’s what our lawsuit seeks to fix.”

Similar efforts by antigay groups have been rejected in ongoing Lambda Legal cases seeking marriage equality in New Jersey and California (where lead counsel the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU are working with Lambda Legal to protect same-sex couples who were married in San Francisco and win full marriage statewide). Lambda Legal also recently filed the first lawsuit seeking full marriage for same-sex couples in Washington State, in a joint case with the Northwest Women’s Law Center.

The plaintiffs in Lambda Legal’s New York marriage case include: Daniel Hernandez and Nevin Cohen, a couple of five years who worry about the lack of protections in times of sickness if one should become ill and they are not married; Lauren Abrams and Donna Freeman-Tweed, a couple of six years who seek to marry to help protect their three-year-old son; Michael Elsasser and Douglas Robinson, a couple of 17 years who seek to solidify their own family protections after successfully raising two teenage sons; Mary Jo Kennedy and Jo-Ann Shain, a couple of 22 years who have to pay higher health care costs because the two cannot marry; and Daniel Reyes and Curtis Woolbright, a couple of three years who would like to start a family someday but worry about doing so without the protections of marriage.

According to the U.S. Census in 2000, New York City has the largest percentage of same-sex households of any city in the country, with 8.9% of the country’s total number of households where gay couples live together; statewide, the 2000 Census counted 46,490 same-sex couples throughout New York State. City and state law provides minimal protections and rights to same-sex couples.

“There is no way to treat same-sex couples equally without allowing them to marry,” said Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart. “As the Massachusetts high court recently said, anything else is separate and separate is not equal.”

Other than Massachusetts (which is set to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples this spring) no state allows same-sex couples to marry. Last summer, Canada began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and recently elected officials in San Francisco, Portland, New Paltz and (briefly) Sandoval County, New Mexico, have also married same-sex couples. Thirty-eight states explicitly ban same-sex couples from marrying or have laws refusing to respect marriages from other states. New York is not among those states. An amendment to the federal Constitution that has been proposed and introduced in Congress would ban marriage between same-sex couples and could also block other protections for couples. That amendment has ignited controversy even among some conservatives because of its breadth and because of the extreme nature of amending the nation’s founding document.

Sommer is Lambda Legal’s lead attorney on the case, Hernandez v. Robles. Jeffrey S. Trachtman and Norman C. Simon of the New York City law firm, Kramer Levin Naftalis and Frankel LLP, are co-counsel on the case.

# # # Contact: Fred Shank, 212/809-8585 ext. 267


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