Metro Weekly

One State, Two Lawsuits

Empire State marriage opponents and supporters head to court

In the days after the Marriage Equality Act took effect on Sunday, July 24, in New York, two legal filings showed where both sides of the debate stand. On July 25, opponents filed a lawsuit against the marriage law, which was criticized by the governor’s office as being ”without merit.” The next day, the state’s attorney general praised the marriage law in a filing opposing the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court.


The spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Josh Vlasto, said of the anti-marriage lawsuit filed on behalf of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, ”The plaintiffs lack a basic understanding of the laws of the state of New York.”

The lawsuit asks for the Marriage Equality Act to be declared void by virtue of claimed violations of the state’s Open Meetings Laws and the constitutional provision that dictates when the governor can issue a “message of necessity.”

The lawsuit – though brought in the name of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, Jason McGuire, Duane Motley and Nathaniel Leiter – is lawyered by Liberty Counsel attorney Rena Lindevaldsen.

Lindevaldsen has a long history of bringing such cases. According to her Liberty University School of Law biography, ”She filed the first lawsuit to enjoin San Francisco’s efforts to ‘marry’ same-sex couples, and obtained two orders enjoining public officials in New York from officiating same-sex unions.”

On the other side, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman jumped into the ongoing national debate over the federal definition of marriage contained in Section 3 of DOMA by supporting the lawsuit filed by Edith Windsor, who was forced to pay a $350,000 estate bill because of the federal government’s refusal to recognize Windsor’s marriage to a woman.

Windsor’s case is one in which the House Republican leadership, through its 3-2 majority on the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, has been defending DOMA in court challenges since the Department of Justice announced in February that it would no longer be defending Section 3 of DOMA in court.

In a brief filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on July 26, Schneiderman – representing the legal view of New York – detailed New York’s practice of recognizing ”same-sex marriages that were solemnized under the laws of other States or nations, such as plaintiff Edith Windsor’s Canadian marriage to Thea Spyer.”

He goes on to discuss New York’s marriage law itself, writing, ”More recently, New York enacted the Marriage Equality Act, which allows same-sex couples to marry in New York. This statute represents the next step along a path on which New York long ago embarked, the path of extending equal treatment under law to same-sex couples.”

The brief, which is signed by Assistant Attorney General Simon Heller, is filed for himself, Scheiderman, Solicitor General Barbara Underwood and Deputy Solicitor General Benjamin Gutman on behalf of the state of New York and concludes that “DOMA does not advance any legitimate governmental interest.”

Moreover, they write, “It cannot survive the scrutiny that is warranted because of the groups that it disadvantages and because of the intrusion on an area that is at the heart of state sovereign power. Accordingly, it must be invalidated as a violation of the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”

For developments relating to these cases, read Metro Weekly‘s Poliglot blog.