The religious exemptions clause of New York’s same sex marriage law was supposed to be the great compromise that broke down the barriers to gay couples marrying. Without the protections the clause provided to institutions that objected to same sex marriage on religious grounds, the law would not have passed New York’s legislature or been signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year.
New Jersey’s Gay Rights community, which has a history of litigating against religious institutions that refused to allow their properties to be used for civil union ceremonies, embraced the religious exemptions clause and convinced the Democratic leadership of the New Jersey legislature to make same sex marriage the number one priority of the current legislative session. New Jersey’s legislature passed the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemptions Act in February. Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill and called for the issue to be decided by Constitutional Amendment via referendum. Despite polls indicating that New Jersey voters favor same sex marriage and that the favor Christie’s proposal to decide the issue via referendum, Garden State Equality and their allies in the legislature opposed a referendum, declaring that same sex marriage is a civil right that should not be decided by the majority at the ballot box. Privately, same sex marriage advocates have acknowledged that they expect to lose a referendum, despite the polls that indicate they would win.
New York is leading the way again.
The New York Post reports that a lesbian couple from Westchester is seeking to overturn the religious exemptions provision of New York’s same sex marriage law in federal court. “Jane Roe” and “Jane Doe,” a couple married on October 15, 2011, filed a class action suit in Manhattan because “Roe’s” employer, St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers, refused to add “Doe” to the Catholic hospital’s medical benefits.
The class-action suit seeks an order declaring that both women are entitled to insurance coverage under federal law. It also says “thousands of legally married, same-sex couples” have been, or will be, denied benefits under similar policies administered by Empire, which is also named as a defendant.
The women are seeking an injunction ordering Blue Cross Blue Shield not to acquiesce to a company that wants to deny same-sex benefits because of religious beliefs, said Jeffrey Norton, their lawyer.