Godfrey v. Spano

Summary

In June 2006, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano issued Executive Order No. 3, stating that Westchester County would officially recognize out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples the same way it currently recognizes marriages of different-sex couples. Three months later the Alliance Defense Fund, an antigay group, representing purported New York taxpayers sued the county executive claiming that he did not have the right to issue his order. Lambda Legal intervened in the case to ensure that New York law would continue to respect marriages that are validly entered into in other jurisdictions. The supreme court of Westchester County reaffirmed well-established New York common law respecting out-of-state marriages, including those between same-sex couples, in New York.

Context

According to longstanding New York common law, marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions should be recognized in New York State.

Lambda Legal's Impact

This decision provides New York couples with the peace of mind of knowing that their valid out-of-state marriages will be respected in New York. Same-sex couples may validly marry in Massachusetts and in five countries around the globe: Canada, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and South Africa. Many of the thousands of same-sex couples who reside in New York have entered into valid marriages in some of these places, and those relationships will continue to be treated equally under New York law.

History

  • September 2006 ADF plaintiffs file complaint and motions for a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order against the county executive. The supreme court of Westchester County denies the motion for a temporary restraining order.
  • November 2006 Lambda Legal files a motion to intervene in the proceeding on behalf of Michael Sabatino and Robert Voorheis, a couple married in Canada
  • December 2006 Lambda Legal and the county executive independently file motions to dismiss plaintiffs’ complaint and in opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction.
  • January 2007 ADF plaintiffs amend their complaint. Lambda Legal and the county executive file motions to dismiss this amended complaint.
  • March 2007 VICTORY! The supreme court of Westchester County dismisses plaintiffs’ complaint and denies plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction, ruling that the county executive’s order was legally issued and consistent with New York law.
  • April 2007 ADF appeals to the New York Appellate Division, Second Department on behalf of three Westchester County taxpayers. Sabatino and Voorheis are permitted to intervene as defendants in the case.
  • June 2008 In oral arguments at the Appellate Division, Lambda Legal defends Spano's responsibility to adhere to New York law.
  • December 2008 Victory! The New York Appellate Division affirms dismissal of the case, confirming that Westchester County Executive Spano lawfully recognized out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.
  • March 2009 New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, accepts the case for review following petition by the ADF.
  • October 2009 Lambda Legal argues before the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, on behalf of Sabatino and Voorheis.
  • November 2009 Victory! The New York Court of Appeals rules that Westchester County could lawfully extend government benefits to same-sex couples in out-of-state marriages. Whether New York same-sex couples will be permitted to marry in their own home state lies in the hands of the New York State Senate.

Case Information

Status: Closed

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
Susan Sommer