Lewis v. New York State Department of Civil Service, et al.

Summary

On May 1, 2007, the New York Department of Civil Service (NYDCS) adopted a policy respecting valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples for the purposes of extending health insurance to spouses of public employees. The policy shift came after several years of Lambda Legal’s litigation in Funderburke v. NYS DCS, on behalf of an elderly retired couple who were denied these benefits under DCS’s prior policy.

Lewis was filed by the antigay group Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), and is the third taxpayer challenge the ADF launched in New York against public officials who confirmed that they will abide by New York’s comity doctrine by requiring respect for out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. DCS’s policy shift of extending health insurance had wide-ranging ramifications. More than 800 state and local governmental employers around New York participate in the health insurance program DCS administers, with over one million individuals enrolled. It is the largest public health insurance program in the nation, excluding that of the federal government.

Context

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

Lambda Legal's Impact

Lambda Legal is working to secure legal and social recognition in New York for marriages of same-sex couples that are validly entered into in other jurisdictions.

History

  • May 2007 DCS issues a memo recognizing, as spouses, same-sex couples married in other states and jurisdictions for purposes of extending spousal health insurance coverage to public employees in participating government insurance plans.
  • May 2007 The antigay group Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) challenges DCS’s authority to respect the marriages.
  • September 2007 Lambda Legal intervenes in the case on behalf of same-sex married couple Peri Rainbow and Tamela Sloan, long-time public employees who rely on spousal health insurance coverage to protect their family.
  • March 2008 Supreme Court, Albany County, issues a decision that the DCS was following the law in applying New York’s marriage recognition rule to the marriages.
  • January 2009 Victory! New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department, upholds lower court’s ruling.
  • February 2009 ADF asks New York Court of Appeals (NY’s highest court) to take the case on appeal. Lambda Legal and DCS oppose ADF’s motion.
  • March 2009 The New York 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 Rainbow and Sloan.
  • November 2009 Victory! The New York Court of Appeals rules that the State Department of Civil Service acted lawfully in extending employee health benefits to same-sex couples in out-of-state marriages. With these government protections secured, whether New York same-sex couples will be permitted to marry in their home state lies in the hands of the New York State Senate.

Case Information

Status: Closed

Defendants

New York State Department of Civil Service, President of NYSDCS Nancy G. Groenwegen, Peri Rainbow (defendants-intervenors), Tamela Sloan (defendants-intervenors)

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
Susan Sommer

Co-counsel/Cooperating Attorneys
Jeffrey S. Trachtman of Kramer Levin Naftails & Frankel LLP.