When you venture beyond the hills just to the north of New York City, you enter a region that despite it's name: New York, morphs into a predominantly Red State, moderately so, but red nonetheless.
So, sadly, despite the fact that New York City harbors the largest gay community in the world and is a very blue state community, same sex marriage remains beyond our reach thanks to a conservative and Republican-controlled state legislature.
But on Friday one of those notorious activist courts that drive Bush et al up the wall, ruled that valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples must be legally recognized in New York, just as the law recognizes those of heterosexual couples solemnized elsewhere. Lawyers for both sides said the ruling applied to all public and private employers in the state.
Even though gay couples may not legally marry in New York, the appellate court in Rochester held that a gay couple’s 2004 marriage in Canada must be respected under the state’s longstanding “marriage recognition rule,” and that an employer’s denial of health benefits had discriminated against the couple on the basis of their sexual orientation.
“The Legislature may decide to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages solemnized abroad,” a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court ruled unanimously in rejecting a 2006 lower court decision. “Until it does so, however, such marriages are entitled to recognition in New York.”
The New York/Canada border, most famous for being the site of one of the most popular honeymoon destinations in the world may soon become the favorite weekend destination for Queer New York.
For more than a century, the court noted, New York State has recognized valid out-of-state marriages. Moreover, it said that the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest judicial body, has said the Legislature may enact laws recognizing same-sex marriages. “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 held.
As a practical matter, the marriages of thousands of gay couples entered into outside the state have been recognized in recent years by many state and local agencies and by private employers for purposes of allowing health and life insurance coverage, child care and other benefits. But others have resisted doing so voluntarily, pending the outcome of numerous cases in the courts.
Friday’s ruling, legal experts said, was the first by an appellate division court, and would make the recognition of valid out-of-state gay marriages mandatory across New York.
The New York Civil Liberties Union noted that this ruling is “the first known decision in the country to hold that a valid same-sex marriage must be recognized.”
“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 N.Y.C.L.U. “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 New York City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, the first openly gay leader of the Council, also applauded the ruling. “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.”
New York City already extends marriage benefits to workers in domestic partnerships, and under a law passed in 2002, it provides all city benefits and services to same-sex couples whose unions are recognized by other jurisdictions. But the city has no power to impose such rules on private companies.
An "activist" court has now changed that, and has also set a legal precedent that could result in a legal tsunami forever changing the face of gay marriage nationwide--despite the lack of any federal laws in our favor.