The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, has rejected a challenge to New York's year-old same-sex marriage law, finding closed-door negotiations among senators and gay marriage supporters, including Governor Andrew Cuomo did not violate any laws.
The Rochester-based court ruled on July 9 against gay marriage opponents who argued that Republican state senators violated New York's open meeting rules ahead of the law's passage last year.
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms said Cuomo and another gay marriage supporter, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, met behind closed doors with the Senate's Republican majority in violation of the Open Meeting Law.
The appeals court heard the case after Acting State Supreme Court Judge Robert Wiggins in Livingston County ruled in November that he did not have enough facts to rule on whether the open meetings law was violated (NYLJ, Dec. 1, 2011). Wiggins dismissed other claims.
New York's open meeting law requires public access to the deliberations of legislative bodies, but Attorney General Eric Schneiderman argued for the state that the Republican caucus with invited guests was exempt, even if the guests are not in the same party. In a 5-0 ruling in New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms v. New York State Senate, 644 CA 12-00313, the court agreed.
"In the event that we were to adopt plaintiffs' limited definition of 'guests,' it would be impossible for a Democratic member of a governor's office, such as a budget director, to speak to a majority Republican caucus," according to the decision.
Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, which represented the group opposing the law, said he expected to seek leave to appeal the ruling.
"It's a disappointment, because this gives a green light to the politicians to [use] strong arm tactics behind closed doors and shut out the people from the process," Staver said.