NEW YORK (AP) – A divided state appeals court ruled Thursday that a Vermont man cannot sue a Manhattan hospital for malpractice in the death of his longtime partner, saying it could not provide a “judicial imprimatur” for same-sex marriages.

The court overturned a Long Island judge’s 2003 decision that John Langan could sue St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan for alleged malpractice in the death of Neil Conrad Spicehandler.

The Appellate Division, in a 3-2 vote, decided that Langan had no standing to sue the hospital despite the couple’s 2000 civil union in Vermont. Attorneys for Langan claimed the civil union gave him standing as a spouse to sue the hospital under New York law.

“Any contrary decision, no matter how circumscribed, will be taken as judicial imprimatur of same-sex marriages and would constitute a usurpation of powers expressly reserved by our Constitution to the Legislature,” the court ruled.

Adam Aronson, the attorney for Langan, criticized the decision and said he would discuss a possible appeal with his client.

“If this decision is allowed to stand, same sex couples will be denied the very significant and important protections that all married heterosexual spouses can get,” said Aronson. “And they will be denied those protections for no reason other than the fact they are gay.”

Gay rights advocates had said a decision for Langan might have cleared the way for New York to recognize same-sex marriages from Massachusetts or countries like Canada and Belgium.

Spicehandler, 41, died at St. Vincent’s after he was struck by a car in midtown Manhattan. In his lawsuit, Langan charged that errors in treatment led to Spicehandler’s death from an embolism – a blockage caused by a blood clot.

Spicehandler and Langan were partners for 15 years, sharing a “close, loving, committed, monogamous relationship as a family unit in a manner indistinguishable from any traditional marital relationship,” the court wrote.

Despite those factors, the ruling said, Langan was legally unable to sue St. Vincent’s. Neither Spicehandler, upon admittance to the hospital, or Langan, in filing probate papers, ever indicated they were married, the court said.

“This court is being asked to create a relationship never intended by the state of Vermont in creating civil unions,” the 21-page decision said.

Calls for comment on the decision were not returned by a hospital spokeswoman or the Manhattan facility’s attorney. Aronson said this was not the end of this case.

“We certainly regard the decision as very clearly wrong,” said Aronson. “One way or another, I feel confident that this is not the final word, whether through an appeal on this case or another.”


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