NY court: Gay marriage caucus didn't break rules

A state appeals court rejected a challenge to New York's year-old same-sex marriage law Friday, ruling closed-door negotiations among senators and gay marriage supporters, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, did not violate any laws.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Rochester ruled against gay marriage opponents who argued that Republican state senators violated New York's open meeting rules ahead of the law's passage last year.

The marriage law was given final legislative approval by the state Senate after weeks of intensive lobbying and swiftly signed by Cuomo, making New York the largest state to legalize same-sex weddings. Same-sex couples began marrying by the hundreds on July 24, 2011, the day the law became official.

"The court's decision affirms that in our state, there is marriage equality for all, and with this decision New York continues to stand as a progressive leader for the nation," Cuomo said after the court's ruling.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office argued for the state, called the decision "a great victory for marriage equality."

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms said Cuomo and another gay marriage supporter, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, met behind closed doors with the Senate's Republican majority in violation of the open meeting law.

The appeals court heard the case after acting state Supreme Court Judge Robert Wiggins in Livingston County ruled in November that he didn't have enough facts to rule on whether the open meetings law was violated. Wiggins dismissed other grounds for the legal challenge brought by the group.

New York's open meeting law requires public access to the deliberations of legislative bodies, but Schneiderman argued that the Republican caucus with invited guests was exempt, even if the guests aren't in the same party. In a 5-0 ruling, the court agreed.

"In the event that we were to adopt plaintiffs' limited definition of 'guests,' it would be impossible for a Democratic member of a governor's office, such as a budget director, to speak to a majority Republican caucus," according to the decision.

Rev. Jason McGuire, who heads New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, said the group would weigh its legal options. Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, which represented the New York group, said he expected to appeal the ruling.

"It's a disappointment, because this gives a green light to the politicians to (use) strong arm tactics behind closed doors and shut out the people from the process," Staver said.