"While causing harm to no one"

By Tim Grieve

Published February 4, 2005 6:45PM (EST)

Here's more on today's New York Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. The court ruled that the New York's city clerk may no longer deny marriage licenses to gay couples. The decision, which is available here, won't take effect for 30 days, leaving time for an appeal to be filed before the city clerk would have to begin allowing gay marriages.

In her decision, Judge Doris Ling-Cohan begins with "Romeo and Juliet," travels through the sorry history of this nation's anti-miscegenation laws, and ends up at the same place the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did last year. "Permitting plaintiffs to marry would confer innumerable tangible and intangible benefits for them and their children while causing harm to no one," Ling-Cohan wrote.

Ling-Cohan seemed to take aim directly at George Bush's argument that the issue of marriage should be left to legislators rather than "activist judges." She said "this same legislature deference" argument was used to fight the abolishment of laws that prohibited inter-racial marriage. Ling-Cohan rejected the argument in the case before her, saying that courts have both the jurisdiction and an obligation to rule when state laws violate state constitutions.

Then, in words the Christian right would like except for where they lead, Ling-Cohan explained that marriage is "without a doubt, the cornerstone of the family and our civilization."

"As marriage constitutes the most intimate of relationship," she wrote, "the decision of when and whom to marry is highly personal, involving complex reasons which vary from person to person. Thus, the decision to marry should rest primarily in the hands of the individual, with little government interference."

Ling-Cohan's solution, offered up in words that must sound like fingernails on the blackboard for the "family values" crowd: Henceforth, the words "husband," "wife," "groom" and "bride" in New York's Domestic Relations law "shall be construed to mean 'spouse,' and all personal pronouns . . . shall be construed to apply equally to either men or women."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room