NY court upholds benefits to married same-sex couples
 

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posted Friday, November 27, 2009 - Volume 37 Issue 48

NY court upholds benefits to married same-sex couples
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

New York State's top court ruled on November 19 that public officials have the authority to recognize out-of-state Gay marriages and pushed state lawmakers to decide whether to legalize same-sex marriage.

The ruling comes in cases in which Lambda Legal intervened on behalf of two married same-sex couples after the Alliance Defense Fund, an anti-Gay legal group, challenged decisions in 2006 by the New York State Department of Civil Services and Westchester County to give health insurance and other benefits to same-sex couples legally married in other states.

The ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the decision of lower courts, which had dismissed the challenge.

"This victory ensures that important spousal health coverage that same-sex couples need to protect their families will continue," said Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal. "The ADF has brought four different cases in New York against four different sets of government defendants. Twenty judges have ruled in those cases. All 20 have ruled against the ADF and in favor of the government and married couples. With government protections secured this round in Lambda Legal's cases, the ball is now in the State Senate's court."

A four-judge majority ruled that the government defendants had discretion to extend benefits to domestic partners and could do so to married same-sex spouses as well. Additionally, a three-judge concurrence said that the longstanding marriage recognition rule means that out-of-state marriages and same-sex couples are entitled to respect in New York.

All seven judges on the Court voted against the ADF's effort to block rights for same-sex couples in New York.

Lambda Legal intervened on behalf of two married same-sex couples who are affected by the decision. Pari Rainbow and Tamela Sloan, long-time public employees who raise a special-needs child they adopted from foster care, said they depend on the critical government protections that come with marriage.

"We hope this is the last time we have to defend our marriage in court," Rainbow said. "We just want to be able to continue using the health insurance that provides important medical benefits for our family."

The judges did not take up the broader issue of whether Gay marriage is legal. However, the judges did express "hope that the [New York] legislature will address this controversy."

New York's State Assembly passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in May, but the measure faces a tough battle in the Senate. New York Governor David Paterson, a Democrat who supports Gay marriage, ordered all state agencies in May 2008 to recognize out-of-state Gay marriages and has said he would sign a Gay marriage bill into law. Five U.S. states have legalized Gay marriage - Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

About 40 states have laws banning Gay marriage, however, some states provide for same-sex unions or domestic partnerships that grant many of the same rights as marriage.



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