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Gays and lesbians sue New York over marriage

By Anne Castellani

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• Gallery: Same-sex marriage battlegrounds

Complaint:  Samuels v. N.Y.  (FindLaw, PDF)external link

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The American Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday it had filed a lawsuit in Albany, New York, seeking marriage equality for 13 same-sex couples in an attempt to put an end to a gay and lesbian "stigma of inferiority."

The couples, including State Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell, are urging the State of New York and the New York Department of Health to ensure "that the basic rights of being a New Yorker and an American are extended to all, and to do so most particularly when the political branches lack the will to act."

The complaint states that a denial of same-sex marriage violates the New York State Constitution's guarantee of equal treatment. However, it falls short of criticizing the state for a history of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

In their brief, the plaintiffs and their lawyers applaud the numerous attempts by institutions to accommodate this emerging disparity in the implementation of the law.

"The State of New York has had a long and distinctive tradition of affording protection to gays and lesbians, a history that mandates interpreting the State's Constitution to require that same-sex couples have an ability equal to that of opposite-sex couples to marry under State law."

However, the complaint also claims that "while the goals of these policies and systems are indeed laudable, unfortunately, they fall far short of reflecting the commitment that two people who build a life together have, and they fail adequately to protect the relationships of same-sex couples".

As the traditional reading of the law stands, gay and lesbian couples are currently denied more than 700 provisions of New York State law, including property and tax laws that often affect decisions about death and dying partners, the indictment states.

Many of the couples involved in the suit have been in relationships for decades. Some of the couples have raised children together. One couple even have grandchildren.

In February, the mayor of the upstate New York village of New Paltz presided over the state's first gay marriages, prompting a legal battle which is also brewing in several other states, including Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey and Washington.

New York Gov. George Pataki said "anyone who conducts a marriage in New York State without a valid marriage license is in clear violation of the law and without question is committing an illegal and criminal act."

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