The New York State Court of Appeals refused to recognize same-sex marriage in a ruling issued Thursday, saying the issue was a question for the Legislature to decide.
The New York case involved 48 gay and lesbian couples who filed four separate cases seeking to overturn a 97-year-old state law that defines marriage as between a man and woman.
The couples claimed the law violated their constitutional rights because it defended sex discrimination. The cases were heard together by the court in Albany.
"We hold that the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex," the appeals court said in its 70-page ruling. "Whether such marriages should be recognized is a question to be addressed by the Legislature."
In February, New York's law was upheld in a lower appeals court, forcing the fight to the State Court of Appeals.
It was was one of several initiatives by gay rights activists across the United States, where gay marriage has been a divisive issue in recent years, particularly in the 2004 presidential election.
Massachusetts is the only state to permit gays to marry, while Vermont allows same-sex couples the rights and benefits of marriage but calls them civil unions.