Skip to Main Content

Need help understanding your rights as an LGBTQ+ person or someone living with HIV? Click here to visit our virtual Help Desk.

Case seeking the right to marry for same-sex couples in New York


In March 2004, Lambda Legal filed a historic lawsuit seeking marriage equality for same-sex couples. Our case argued that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality and liberty for all New Yorkers. The lawsuit was filed two days after the state’s attorney general said that state laws referring to “husband” and “wife” should prohibit local officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples — and added that those laws raise serious constitutional questions because they exclude gay couples. In February 2005, a trial court judge ruled in Lambda Legal’s favor, saying same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. The intermediate appellate court reversed the trial court and the case ended up at New York’s high court, which upheld the state’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage.

Lambda Legal’s Impact

The high court’s decision puts the responsibility to grant marriage equality in New York squarely in the hands of the state legislature and the court of public opinion. Lambda Legal’s marriage case helped move public opinion forward significantly by showing the hardships couples face when they are denied the rights, responsibilities and protections of marriage. This is important groundwork as we enter the next stage of the battle.


  • March 2004 Lambda Legal files historic lawsuit seeking full marriage for same-sex couples in New York State.
  • July 2004 Lambda Legal asks state court to fast-track its case seeking marriage licenses for same-sex couples, citing the need for the protections and security that marriage provides.
  • September 2004 Lambda Legal files court papers arguing that the city’s case for continuing to discriminate against same-sex couples — which the city says is an interest in “preserving traditional marriage”—is an improper basis for denying rights to people and doesn’t pass constitutional muster.
  • February 2005 In historic ruling, New York state court says that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. Lawyers for New York City appeal the decision.
  • March 2005 New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) announces that a mid-level state appeals court needs to hear Lambda Legal’s lawsuit seeking marriage for same-sex couples before the high court considers hearing the case.
  • August 2005 Lambda Legal files papers in New York Appellate Division, First Department (the state’s mid-level court) to defend the lower court ruling affirming that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in New York.
  • December 2005 Mid-level court overturns lower court decision that barring same-sex couples from marriage violates the state’s constitution. Lambda Legal plans an appeal to the state’s highest court.
  • February 2006 Lambda Legal files opening brief in New York Court of Appeals seeking marriage for same-sex couples.
  • May 2006 Lambda Legal presents oral arguments to New York Court of Appeals.
  • July 2006 New York Court of Appeals issues ruling upholding the state’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage.