A New York appeals court upholds state recognition of the legal marriages of same-sex couples performed out-of-state.
In May 2007, the New York State Department of Civil Service (DCS) issued a memo recognizing same-sex couples married in other states or jurisdictions for the purposes of extending spousal health insurance coverage to public employees. As a result, important medical benefits could be provided for mothers like Peri Rainbow and Tamela Sloan, who jointly raise a special needs child adopted from foster care. Rainbow and Sloan, long-time public employees who married in Canada, depend on government protections that come from respect for their marriage.
But the state agency’s authority to respect out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples was challenged by the antigay group Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). In March 2008, the Supreme Court, Albany County (a trial court in NY), ruled in favor of DCS, saying that the agency followed the law when it recognized these marriages. ADF opposed the decision.
Lambda Legal argued before the court on behalf of Rainbow and Sloan and in January, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department, upheld the lower court’s ruling. Lewis joins other marriage recognition victories in New York courts, including New York Civil Liberties Union’s 2008 case Martinez v. County of Monroe, a prior appeals court decision affirming that county officials were lawful in respecting the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. This latest victory also affirms Governor Paterson’s May 2008 directive to state agencies to respect marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions.
On January 26, Lambda Legal, along with Empire State Pride Agenda, New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union, released a guide outlining government protections and obligations for same-sex couples in New York who have married out of state. The document is titled: Your Government Respects Your Marriage: Developments in New York State Agency Recognition of Same-Sex Couples’ Out-of-State Marriages.
According to the Court’s majority opinion, “Once an out-of-state same-sex marriage is recognized in New York,…each of its parties would be ‘a party to marriage,’ and, thus, a ‘legal spouse’ who would be entitled to the benefits, rights and obligations of that status.”
For more information on Lambda Legal’s marriage recognition work, go to Marriage Recognition for Same-Sex Couples in New York: Advances in Court.