New York Directed to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages Performed Elsewhere

NY Governor Paterson issued a directive dated May 14 instructing state agencies to afford same-sex couples married elsewhere the same rights as heterosexual couples.

Advocates for the LGBT community in New York opened the Pride season by celebrating and thanking Governor David A. Paterson for a landmark decision in the struggle for equality in the state.

Governor Paterson, a Democrat, issued a directive dated May 14 instructing state agencies to afford same-sex couples married elsewhere the same recognition as couples that enter into any other legal union.  His directive would affect couples married in other jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal, such as Canada, Massachusetts and, most recently, California.

The Governor announced his directive in a video presented at a fundraiser for the Empire State Pride Agenda on May 17 in Rochester.

Paterson’s decision would make New York the only state that does not itself allow same-sex marriage, but fully recognizes unions entered into elsewhere. It also suggests the governor’s profound interest in exerting a lasting legacy on the progress of LGBT rights in the state.

The Harlem-based politician became governor in March unexpectedly, when disgraced former Governor Eliot Spitzer stepped down in the wake of news about his involvement in a prostitution scandal.

Last year, Spitzer introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. It passed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, but hasn’t moved in the Republican-controlled Senate.

In making the new directive, Paterson cited a ruling in February by a State Appellate Court in Rochester that referred to New York’s long-standing policy of recognizing marriages performed elsewhere, even those unions that are not explicitly recognized by New York law. The court ruled that Patricia Martinez, a woman employed by Monroe County Community College who married her partner in Canada, could not be denied health benefits by her employer. Accordingly, it said that New York must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries that allow them.

State agencies are to report back to the Governor by June 30 whether their rules and regulations conflict with recognition of same-sex marriages. Different tactics may need to be used to make changes to areas that do comply.

On June 3, the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund based in Arizona filed a lawsuit in Bronx County Supreme Court on behalf of five Republican state senators seeking an injection against the Paterson directive. They contend that the governor has overstepped the will of the people as represented through the legislature.

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