Gov. moves to recognize gay marriage

May 29, 2008 5:09:49 AM PDT
New York state will recognize gay marriages legally performed in other states and countries, according to a memo from the counsel to Gov. David Paterson.State agencies, including those governing insurance and health care, must immediately recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere as valid in New York, according to the directive.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in New York, and the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, has said it can only be legalized by the Legislature. But the memo, based on a Feb. 1 New York Appellate Division court ruling, would recognize the marriages of New Yorkers who are legally wed elsewhere.

The appellate judges determined that there is no legal impediment in New York to the recognition of a same-sex marriage. The state Legislature "may decide to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages solemnized abroad," the ruling said. "Until it does so, however, such marriages are entitled to recognition in New York."

Paterson spokeswoman Erin Duggan said the May 14 memo is intended to clarify the actions of state agencies. The memo states that agencies must change policies and regulations to make sure "spouse," "husband" and "wife" are clearly understood to include gay couples.

The memo states that failure to include gay marriages in the dispensing of state services such as health care benefits could violate state human rights law. The agencies could face sanctions for any violations, the memo warns.

The agency changes can be instituted through internal memos or changes in regulations and would not require legislative action, Paterson counsel David Nocenti said in the memo, which was first reported by The New York Times.

The February appellate decision involved the case of a woman whose female partner was denied health benefits by her employer even though she had been legally married in Canada.

The move is one of the strongest steps the state can take short of action by the Legislature.


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