By Daniel Weissner
(Reuters) - A New York appeals courts on Friday threw out the first legal challenge to the state's same-sex marriage law, dismissing a Christian group's claim the behind-the-scenes lobbying that preceded the law's passage had been improper.
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an evangelical Christian group, claimed the state Senate's Republican majority violated the state Open Meetings Law in June 2011 when it met with Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg behind closed doors to discuss marriage legislation.
The group said its senior lobbyist, Rev. Duane Motley and co-plaintiff Rabbi Nathaniel Leiter, were barred from the meetings.
The Open Meetings Law requires officials to conduct public business in public, but provides exemptions for "deliberations of political committees, conferences and caucuses," which are groups of like-minded lawmakers.
The group argued that "conferences and caucuses" may only have meetings behind closed doors with private guests if those guests are from the same political party. It claimed the Senate Republican majority's meetings with the Democratic governor and Bloomberg, an Independent, ran afoul of the law.
The Appellate Division, Fourth Department rejected that argument.
Nothing in the law "suggests that members of a political caucus cannot entertain a guest from a different political party," Justice Eugene Fahey wrote for the court.
New York became the sixth and largest state to legalize same-sex marriage in June 2011. Much of the debate over the bill centered on carving out exemptions for religious officials and groups that did not want to participate in same-sex nuptials.
New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms filed suit in July.
Cuomo met with all 32 Senate Republicans at the executive mansion in Albany on June 13, eleven days before the Senate passed the bill, according to his website. Bloomberg met with Republican senators at least twice in May and June.
In November, Acting Supreme Court Justice Robert Wiggins in Livingston County rejected claims against the state, but allowed the case against the Senate to proceed to trial. Friday's ruling dismissed the entire case.
The group had not decided whether to appeal, its executive director Rev. Jason McGuire said.
(Reporting by Dan Wiessner; Editing by Edith Honan and Leslie Gevirtz)