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February 8, 2008

New York must recognize a Canadian marriage, court says

Rochester, New York--In the first such decision in the country, a New York appeals court has ruled that the state must recognize a lesbian couple’s Canadian marriage, same as it would recognize a heterosexual one from outside its boundaries.

The February 1 ruling involved two New York women who married in Ontario in 2004, after the province legalized same-sex marriage. The court said that the state’s “marriage recognition rule” covered the couple, and that an employer discriminated against them illegally by denying spousal benefits.

The court pointed to the state’s recognition of other valid out-of-state marriages, and a New York Court of Appeals ruling that the legislature could enact laws recognizing same-sex marriage if it so chose.

“In our view, the Court of Appeals thereby indicated that the recognition of plaintiff’s marriage is not against the public policy of New York,” the court wrote.

The Court of Appeals is the state’s highest judicial authority.

“The legislature may decide to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages solemnized abroad,” the five-judge panel wrote, according to the New York Times. “Until it does so, however, such marriages are entitled to recognition in New York.”

Monroe County and the Monroe Community College in Rochester had not yet indicated whether they would appeal the decision. They were named as defendants in the case filed by Patricia Martinez, a word processing supervisor at Monroe Community College.

“This is a victory for families, it’s a victory for fairness and it’s a victory for human rights,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented Martinez in the case. “Congratulations to all same-sex couples validly married outside of New York state: You are now husband and husband, wife and wife. Now we need to work toward a New York where you don’t have to cross state or country lines to get married.”

The ruling reversed a lower court’s 2006 decision. Judge Harold Galloway had dismissed the case, saying that New York “currently defines marriage as limited to the union of one man and one woman.”

Martinez’ partner, Lisa Ann Golden, qualified for benefits extended to domestic partners of college employees in early 2006 under a new contract, but the court ruled that she was entitled to damages for the time frame when the benefits were denied.

New York City offers marital benefits to domestic partners of city employees, and a 2002 ordinance provides all city benefits and services to same-sex couples recognized by other jurisdictions, but those measures do not affect private companies’ recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.

“If this is saying companies have to do it, it’s a tremendous step forward in recognizing the diversity of families in New York City,” said New York City council speaker Christine C. Quinn, the first openly gay person to lead the body.

In addition to Canada, gay and lesbian couples may marry in Spain, South Africa, Belgium, the Netherlands and in the U.S. state of Massachusetts.

A dozen other nations recognize same-sex couples at a level short of marriage, as do the states of Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, California, Washington, Maine, Hawaii and, as of last week, Oregon.


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