History On the Webcast

History will be made next week at the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany and it will also be made right on your desktop computer.

On Wednesday, May 31 at 2 p.m., the state’s highest court will hear oral arguments in four pending same-sex marriage lawsuits. The outcome of those arguments—an opinion issued by the Court of Appeals probably sometime this summer—may determine the fate of gay marriage in the Empire State.

The plaintiffs—consisting of gay and lesbian couples across the city and throughout the state, who filed five separate suits, only four of them at issue next week—could win outright, meaning that same-sex marriages would be legal in New York, barring a subsequent constitutional amendment to the contrary. The court could also completely reject the plaintiffs’ petitions, in which case the community led by the Empire State Pride Agenda would have recourse only to the state Legislature for a change in law, a process of indeterminate duration.

Or the court could hedge, as the Supreme Court in Vermont did in 1999, ordering the Legislature to find some way to give same-sex couples the exact basket of rights and responsibilities married couples have, but not insisting the arrangement be called marriage. That 1999 decision resulted in the innovation known as civil unions in Vermont the next year, followed by Connecticut last year.

The advocates representing the gay and lesbian community—led by Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union—represent some of the best legal minds at work on our issues. Important victories during the past decade, most prominently in the 2003 Texas sodomy case at the U.S. Supreme Court and on marriage before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court the same year, laid both the legal groundwork and the intellectual climate that made contemplation of a victory here in New York even possible.

The defendants in these cases are the City and State of New York, and their arguments come at the behest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. This newspaper has repeatedly pressed both political leaders—same-sex marriage supporters both of them; one of them a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful—how they reconcile their policy view with their legal posture. The die of course is set; the opposition by their legal teams inevitable. Still, it is fair to watch closely to see how each defendant articulates the arguments that the right to marry is not fundamental and that our exclusion from it and the exclusion of our relationships and our children from the protections of marriage do not unconstitutionally disadvantage our families.

All of the drama is available live Wednesday online at http://www.courts.state.ny.us/ctapps. If your work schedule precludes watching live, the Webcast will remain at that site for some period of time. It should be instructive viewing for all of us.

As the state prepares for this momentous debate, show your colors. The Empire State Pride Agenda is planning six rallies statewide Tuesday evening at houses of worship to demonstrate support for same-sex marriage. In Manhattan, folks will gather at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, 257 West 88th Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue, at 7 p.m.

Get out there.