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NY's mayor appeals gay marriage ruling, tossing decision up to high court

Mayor Mike Bloomberg is gambling NY’s high court will rule in favor of gay civil marriage.

Yep, it’s a crap shoot. I understand his motives — Mike Bloomberd is supportive of gay marriage, but he’s betting on the higher state courts to eventually rule in favor of it. It’s still an unsettling game of legal chicken. (NYT):

A day after a judge in Manhattan issued the first New York State court ruling in support of gay marriage, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said New York City would appeal the decision, effectively closing the door on such marriages until the issue is decided by a higher court.

Speaking on a Chinatown sidewalk yesterday afternoon after attending a community event, Mr. Bloomberg told reporters that the city would try “to expedite the appeal directly to the highest court,” the state’s Court of Appeals, “so that people will have a right once and for all to know where they stand.”

With New York’s highest court now likely to face an issue that has proved its political potency around the country, Mr. Bloomberg said he personally favored gay marriage. It was the first time, according to his aides, that he has so clearly stated his position in public. He went further last night at a dinner held by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, where he told the guests at the Waldorf-Astoria that he would “work with you to change the law” in Albany if the lower court ruling – which he called “something to celebrate” – was struck down.

In his remarks in Chinatown, the mayor said city lawyers had told him that the ruling “was incorrect, that the current state Constitution does not permit same-sex marriages.” Lawyers for the city had made that same argument before Justice Ling-Cohan, who ruled in a suit brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of five gay couples who had been denied marriage licenses.

…the import of his remarks reverberated far beyond the mayoral campaign. Lawyers said the ruling on Friday, combined with the mayor’s decision to appeal it, virtually guaranteed that the state’s highest court, the seven-member Court of Appeals, would make a definitive ruling on gay marriage for the state.

The issue will be squarely in the lap of the Court of Appeals,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is involved in another case raising the same questions. “They will have the obligation and the opportunity to decide whether the New York State Constitution provides that our marriage laws give the same rights for same-sex couples as it does for heterosexual couples.”

A decision on gay marriage would likely be among the most controversial by the Court of Appeals in many years and would almost certainly spark calls for further action. For example, if the court was to allow gay marriage, opponents would most likely seek a change in state law or a constitutional amendment barring such unions. It could also spur efforts in state courts around the country by gay-marriage proponents who have been pressing for rulings similar to that of the highest court in Massachusetts allowing gay marriage.

New York’s Court of Appeals once had a reputation as a liberal panel, and last June a 4-to-3 majority effectively declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding