New York could become the next Massachusetts today. The State Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on gay marriage, potentially aligning New York’s marriage law, court precedent, and the state constitution all in favor of allowing same-sex couples to wed. Or – in what would be a surprise to many legal scholars – they could cut down any hope of gay marriage. And then, of course, there’s the halfway option.
There are several directions the Court of Appeals could take, lawyers said. The most dramatic would be a clear affirmation that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, which would make New York the second state in the nation, after Massachusetts, to allow such marriages. In that event, the court could order the Legislature to rewrite the marriage law. […]
The court could also take a more administrative tack, simply ruling that words like “husband” and “wife” in the marriage code should be changed to gender-neutral words like “spouse.” […]
While neither side in the case would handicap its chances for victory, lawyers noted that the Court of Appeals has a long history of trailblazing, going back to its golden age in the 1920’s under Chief Judge Benjamin Cardozo. Even now that Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, has appointed a four-member majority, it is still considered one of the more progressive courts in the country, legal experts said. […]
In a compromise ruling, the court could find a violation of equal protection, but it could rule that civil union, rather than marriage, is enough of a remedy. But even if the court rules that gay and lesbian New Yorkers do not have a state constitutional right to marry, advocates for same-sex marriage said the litigation – and the attention it has attracted – has moved public opinion closer to their position on the issue.