In 14 friend-of-the-court briefs, (lawsuits filed on behalf of someone else) filed with the New York Court of Appeals, national and state-wide religious and civil rights leaders and organisations have urged the court to put an end to state laws that deny same-sex couples the protections of marriage.

The court is hearing oral arguments in lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and others on behalf of same-sex couples on May 31, 2006. “It’s wrong for New York to continue to deny same-sex couples and their children equal protections for their families,” said Victor Bolden, general counsel of the NAACP Legal Defence Educational Fund, “The constitution protects the right of individuals to marry whomever they love regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.”

The brief filed by the NAACP Legal Defence Educational Fund explains laws that bar same-sex couples from marriage are similar to laws banning inter-racial marriage that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. A brief by the New York County Lawyers Association and the National Black Justice Coalition makes similar arguments.

Nearly 200 religious organisations, congregations and clergy from throughout the state also filed a brief pointing out that there is broad support among religions for marriage for same-sex couples while acknowledging that allowing same-sex couples to marry will not force religious groups that do not wish to marry same-sex couples to do so.

Religious groups signing the brief include Episcopal, United Methodist, Presbyterian, the United Church of Christ and Unitarian churches, and conservative and reform Jewish temples.

“As a pastor who has served several congregations over the past 21 years, I’ve seen first-hand the loving bonds and beautiful families that have grown out of the lasting commitments of gay, lesbian and straight couples,” says the Reverend Steve Clunn of the First United Methodist Church of Schenectady.

“While the U.S. Constitution guarantees that various religious groups will always be free to marry whom they please, I and many of my colleagues long for the day when the state will not stand in the way of our ability to marry same-sex couples.”

The Court of Appeals will be hearing four separate cases on May 31st, all seeking marriage for same-sex couples. Samuels and Gallagher v. New York was brought by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton Garrison LLP against the Department of Health, which regulates marriage for most of the state. Hernandez v. Robles was brought by Lambda Legal, with pro bono co-counsel Kramer, Levin Naftalis Frankel, against Victor Robles in his official capacity as City Clerk, which regulates marriages in New York City. The two additional cases were brought by private lawyers on behalf of same-sex couples from Ithaca, NY and Albany.

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