The New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union today urged New York's highest court to strike down a state law that bars same-sex couples from marriage and the hundreds of family protections that marriage provides.
"We've known all along that this case was headed to New York's high court, so it was especially rewarding to hear the lawyers explain why it's unfair for the state to ban us from marriage and the many family protections that come with it," said Carol Snyder, a plaintiff from White Plains, NY. When Snyder was being treated for breast cancer, her partner of 15 years, Heather McDonnell, was repeatedly questioned and asked to leave her side even though the couple had secured paperwork hoping to avoid this kind of treatment.
The ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, LLP brought the legal challenge on behalf of same-sex couples from throughout the state. In addition to the ACLU case, the New York Court of Appeals heard oral arguments today in three other cases seeking marriage for same-sex couples, including a case brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of couples from New York City and separate cases brought by couples in Ithaca and Albany. The court's decision will apply to all lesbian and gay New Yorkers.
"We are hopeful that we succeeded in persuading the members of the Court of Appeals that denying same-sex couples protections for their families is inconsistent with New York's unique and rich history of tolerance and equality for all," said Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, LLP, who argued on behalf of the couples in the case. "Lesbians and gay people who fall in love, make commitments to each other, and raise children together deserve to have all of the protections that married New Yorkers take for granted."
"It is unfair for the state to treat committed couples as legal strangers," added James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "As many lesbian and gay couples throughout the state have learned so painfully, family protections become critical during times of crisis."
Among the couples who were present for the arguments were:
- Cindy Bink and Ann Pachner of West Hurley, who have been together for 18 years. Bink had to leave her job as a counselor at a community college in New Jersey, where she had worked for 17 years because the college did not offer domestic partner benefits. Forced to search for a job that would allow her to cover Pachner on her health insurance policy, she finally found a job working for the City of New York that provides health care for both of them.
- Regina Cicchetti and Susan Zimmer, who live in Port Jervis, recently celebrated their 35th anniversary. Cicchetti has survived two life-threatening illnesses – breast cancer and a pituitary tumor – and says that she could never have made it through these crises without Zimmer's support. The couple wants the security of knowing no questions will be asked about their relationship should one of them be hospitalized in the future.
- John Wessell and Billy O'Connor of New York City will be celebrating their 27th anniversary next week. Now nearing retirement, the couple worries that they would be barred from visiting each other in the hospital or kept out of conversations about emergency medical decisions. Although they have wills, they also worry that their wishes will not be respected when one of them passes away.
"Lesbian and gay couples seek out and establish long-term commitments just as straight couples do," said Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "There is simply no good reason for the state to refuse to provide equal benefits and equal status under the law to all couples who seek the legal protections of civil marriage."
The NYCLU expects that the court will issue its ruling in the coming months.
Eisenberg of the NYCLU, Esseks and Sharon McGowan of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, and Kaplan and Andrew Ehrlich of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, LLP are the legal team representing the plaintiffs.
Biographical information on all of the clients, the legal documents and other background materials about Samuels and Gallagher, et. al. v. New York Department of Health are available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles.