A state Supreme Court judge in Livingston County has ruled that a lawsuit challenging the state’s same-sex marriage law can proceed and raised questions about whether the June vote to legalize same-sex marriage violated the state’s open meetings law.
The decision, dated Nov. 18, by Judge Robert Wiggins, took issue with a variety of procedural steps taken by the Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo when the June 24 vote was taken. The measure passed 33-29, and Cuomo quickly signed it into law.
Wiggins, a Republican judge in the rural county, said the Monroe County-based group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms presented enough evidence that the open meetings law may have been violated to let the case continue. The state has sought to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed in late July.
“The Court must consider allegations by plaintiff as true. Considering plaintiff’s allegations, and without deciding matter at this time, the court feels that is a justiciable issue presented whether there was a violation of the Open Meetings Law,” Wiggins wrote in his decision.
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a pro-life group, has vehemently fought the same-sex marriage law. New York became the sixth and largest state to let gay couples marry. The law took effect July 24.
The group alleges that Cuomo and Senate Republicans violated the open meetings law by holding closed-door conferences to discuss the bill. The lawsuit also contends that the Senate didn’t follow procedures that require a bill to be sent to appropriate committees before a vote on the Senate floor.
Legislative conferences are always held behind closed doors, and state law exempts political caucuses, committees and conferences from the open meetings law. Also, governors have to ability to bypass a three-day waiting period for a new bill to be voted on by the Legislature by issuing “a message of necessity” — which was the case for the same-sex marriage vote.
Wiggins criticized the practices, which have long been knocked by good-governments groups. But Wiggins said it was not in his purview to rule on the legality of those procedures.
“Logically and clearly this cite by the governor is disingenuous,” Wiggins wrote. “The review of such concept altering legislation for three days after generations of existing definitions would not so damage same-sex couples as to necessitate an avoidance of rules meant to ensure full review and discussion prior to any vote.”
Rev. Jason J. McGuire, the group’s executive director who filed the lawsuit in his home county of Livingston, praised the judge’s ruling. There was no immediate comment from state officials.
“I’m grateful that Judge Wiggins carefully weighed the arguments and agreed that this case has sufficient merit to move forward,” McGuire said in a statement.
Here’s the judge’s ruling.