Gay and lesbian couples have no constitutional right to marry in New York. The state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, in a 4-2 opinion, ruled:
We hold that the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex.
The deciscion is available here (pdf format).
The decision leaves Massachusetts as the only U.S. state allowing gay marriage. Appeals of decisions upholding same-sex marriage bans are pending in California, New Jersey, and Washington state. In 1999, Vermont determined the benefits of marriage must be provided to same-sex couples and referred the issue to the legislature, which enacted a civil union statute for same-sex couples.
According to the New York Times, the court concluded that the legislature could have "a rational basis" for limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, in large part because of their ability to bear children:
The decision called the idea of same-sex marriage "a relatively new one" and said that for most of history, society has conceived of marriage exclusively as a bond between a man and a woman. "A court should not lightly conclude that everyone who held this belief was irrational, ignorant or bigoted," the decision stated.
"There are at least two grounds that rationally support the limitation on marriage that the legislature has enacted," the court said, "both of which are derived from the undisputed assumption that marriage is important to the welfare of children."
First, the court said, marriage could be preserved as an "inducement" to heterosexual couples to remain in stable, long-term, and child-bearing relationships. Second, lawmakers could rationally conclude that "it is better, other things being equal, for children to grow up with both a mother and the father."
"Intuition and experience suggest that a child benefits from having before his or her eyes, every day, living models of what both a man and a woman are like," the court said.
The court rejected parallels to laws barring interracial marriage, and the claim that sheer homophobia lay at the root of current law. "Plaintiffs have not persuaded us that this long-accepted restriction is a wholly irrational one, based solely on ignorance and prejudice against homosexuals," the court said.
Unlike Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court, which in a 2003 decision made Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, New York's Court of Appeals said that state lawmakers are better suited to consider the issue. That is an invitation gay rights activists are sure to accept.
Gay marriage, like abortion, is one of those hot-button culture issues that will not fade away anytime soon. Even in Massachusetts, three years after the states highest court "decided" the issue, the battle over gay marriage still rages on.