A New York federal court rejects Howard K. Stern’s claim that being called gay is defamatory, following Lambda Legal’s intervention.
On August 12, a New York federal court rejected a claim by Howard K. Stern that merely being described as gay is defamatory per se.
In 2007, Stern filed a lawsuit claiming that he was defamed, and entitled to collect damages, because he was described as gay in the book Blonde Ambition: The Untold Story Behind the Death of Anna Nicole Smith. Lambda Legal’s friend-of-the-court brief urged the court to reject the claim, arguing that its recognition would demean gay men and lesbians. The brief also called attention to the fact that being called gay does not expose someone to public hatred and shame. In the court’s decision, Judge Denny Chin writes:
“The past few decades have seen a veritable sea change in attitudes about homosexuality. First, and perhaps most importantly, in 2003 the United States Supreme Court, in a sweeping decision, invalidated laws criminalizing intimate homosexual conduct, holding that such laws violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause…While I certainly agree that gays and lesbians continue to face prejudice, I respectfully disagree that the existence of this continued prejudice leads to the conclusion that there is a widespread view of gays and lesbians as contemptible and disgraceful.”
The court’s decision is the first to hold that, as a matter of New York law, it is not defamatory per se to incorrectly describe a man as gay — a holding that is in sync with New York law and public policy, which has repeatedly maintained the rights and dignity of gay men and lesbians.
The case is Stern v. Rita Cosby, et al.
Read about Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark Lambda Legal case referenced in the decision.