New York High Court Upholds Government Benefits to Married Same-Sex Couples, Exhorts Legislature to Vote on Marriage

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"With government protections secured this round in Lambda Legal's cases, the ball is now in the State Senate's court."
November 18, 2009

(New York, November 19, 2009) — In a decision today, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the State Department of Civil Service and Westchester County could extend government benefits to same–sex couples in out–of–state marriages. The ruling comes in cases in which Lambda Legal intervened on behalf of two married same–sex couples after the Alliance Defense Fund, an antigay legal group, tried to do away with longstanding New York law recognizing out–of–state marriages.


"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 twenty have ruled against the ADF and in favor of the government and married same–sex couples. With government protections secured this round in Lambda Legal's cases, the ball is now in the State Senate’s court."


The Court expressed "our hope that the Legislature will address this controversy." 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. A three–judge concurrence said that the longstanding marriage recognition rule means that out–of–state marriages of 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. The ruling leaves intact lower appellate court decisions confirming that out–of–state marriages of same–sex couples get legal respect in New York.


Lambda Legal intervened on behalf of two married same–sex couples who are affected by the decision. Peri Rainbow and Tamela Sloan, long–time public employees, intervened in the Lewis v. NY State Department of Civil Service case, and are raising a special needs child adopted from foster care. The couple depends on the critical government protections that come from respect for their marriage. "We hope this is the last time we have to defend our marriage in court," said Rainbow. "We just want to be able to continue using the health insurance that provides important medical benefits for our family."


Lambda Legal also represents Westchester County couple Michael Sabatino and Robert Voorheis, who married in Canada and were permitted to intervene as defendants in the Godfrey v. Spano case.

Susan Sommer, Senior Counsel and Director of Constitutional Litigation, is handling Godfrey and Lewis for Lambda Legal. Jeffrey S. Trachtman of Kramer Levin Naftalis and Frankel LLP in New York is co–counsel for Lewis.

The cases are Godfrey v. Spano and Lewis v. New York State Department of Civil Service, et al.

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Contact Info

Contact: Jonathan Adams 212-809-8585 ext 267; jadams@lambdalegal.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

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