First New York Appellate Court to Approve State Recognition of Out-of-State Marriages for Same-Sex Couples in Lambda Legal's Case

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"Today the Appellate Court confirmed that New York's state government follows the law by respecting out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples."
January 21, 2009

(New York, January 22, 2009) — The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department today upheld a lower court's ruling that the New York State Department of Civil Service (DCS), a state agency, acted in compliance with the law when it confirmed that it would recognize out–of–state marriages of same–sex couples. This was the first Appellate Court ruling in New York to address the Paterson administration's recognition of these marriages.

"Once an out–of–state same–sex marriage is recognized in New York,...each of its parties would be 'a party to a marriage,' and, thus, a 'legal spouse' who would be entitled to the benefits, rights and obligations of that status," the three-judge majority opinion held. The other two panel judges filed a concurring opinion.

"Today the Appellate Court confirmed that New York's state government follows the law by respecting out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples," said Susan Sommer, Senior Counsel at Lambda Legal. "The Court has upheld important spousal health coverage for government employees in the process."

In May 2007, DCS issued a memo recognizing, as spouses, same–sex couples married in other states or jurisdictions for purposes of extending spousal health insurance coverage to public employees in participating government insurance plans. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), on behalf of four New York taxpayer plaintiffs, challenged DCS's authority to respect valid out–of–state marriages of same-sex couples and to treat those couples fairly in administering state benefits. In March of 2008, the Supreme Court, Albany County, issued a decision that the DCS was following the law in applying New York's marriage recognition rule to these marriages. ADF opposed the decision in an appeal filed in 2008.

Lambda Legal argued before the court in October 2008 on behalf of Defendant–Intervenors–Respondents Peri Rainbow and Tamela Sloan, long–time public employees who are raising a special needs child adopted from foster care. The couple depends on the government protections that come from respect for their marriage, and today's decision validated the lower court ruling that marriages such as theirs are lawfully respected in New York state.

Today's decision is consistent with other marriage recognition victories in New York courts, as well as Governor Paterson's May 2008 directive instructing all state agencies to respect out–of–state marriages of same–sex couples. In September 2008, the New York Supreme Court (Bronx trial court) dismissed a lawsuit against Governor Paterson challenging this directive and again granted Lambda Legal's motion to intervene in the case on behalf of Rainbow and Sloan.

In February 2008, in Martinez v. County of Monroe, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department in Rochester, also upheld application of the marriage recognition rule to valid out–of–state marriages of same–sex couples. The decision, issued in response to a challenge brought by the NYCLU on behalf of a lesbian couple, is consistent with longstanding marriage recognition in New York.

In early 2009, Lambda Legal applauded a similar decision from the New York Appellate Division, Second Department affirming dismissal of a case brought by the ADF. The court confirmed that Westchester County Executive Spano lawfully recognized out–of–state marriages of same–sex couples, ruling as well in favor of Westchester County couple Michael Sabatino and Robert Voorheis, who had married in Canada and were permitted to intervene as defendants in the case with Lambda Legal as counsel.

Susan Sommer, Senior Counsel, is handling the case for Lambda Legal. She is joined by co–counsel Kramer Levin Naftails & Frankel LLP.

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


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