Just Another Guy with Opinions

New York Recognizes Same-Sex Marriage

Posted by shadmia on May 29, 2008

Gov. David A. Paterson has directed all state agencies to begin to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, like Massachusetts, California and Canada. In a directive issued on May 14, the governor’s legal counsel, David Nocenti, instructed the agencies that gay couples married elsewhere “should be afforded the same recognition as any other legally performed union.”

The directive makes New York state the only state that recognizes gay marriages performed elsewhere, while it is still illegal in New York. It has fueled speculation that Gov. Paterson may soon push for gay marriage. In a videotaped message given to gay community leaders, Mr. Paterson described the move as “a strong step toward marriage equality.” And people on both sides of the issue said it moved the state closer to fully legalizing same-sex unions in this state.

“Very shortly, there will be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, and probably thousands and thousands and thousands of gay people who have their marriages recognized by the state,” said Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, a Democrat who represents the Upper West Side and has pushed for legalization of gay unions.

This is expected to cause revision to as many as 1,300 statutes and regulations in New York governing everything from joint filing of income tax returns to transferring fishing licenses between spouses. Agency heads were directed to identify a list of state regulations and statutes that were likely to need overhaul, including measures affecting a spouse’s ability to collect a deceased spouse’s pension and to continue to use public housing. Mr. Nocenti wrote that state agencies should review all rules and regulations to determine whether they conflict with recognition of same-sex marriages and report back to him by June 30. He said that state agencies that did not provide “full faith and credit to same-sex marriages” could be subject to liability.

Opponents of gay marriage accuse the governor of trying to circumvent the state legislature and say the issue should be decided by the voters and not by executive directive.

“It’s a perfect example of a governor overstepping his authority and sidestepping the democratic process,” said Brian Raum, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a national organization opposed to same-sex marriage. “It’s an issue of public policy that should be decided by the voters.”

Forty-one states are currently limiting marriages to that between a man and a woman; Massachusetts and California remain the only states that legalize gay marriage while others only allow civil unions. The previous governor of New York, Elliott Spitzer, had introduced a bill last year that would have legalized gay marriage. The Democratic-dominated Assembly passed the measure, but the Republican-led Senate has refused to call a vote on it.

The Paterson directive cited the case of Patricia Martinez, who works at Monroe Community College and who married her partner, Lisa Golden, in Canada. The State Appellate Court in Rochester ruled that she could not be denied health benefits by the college because her marriage was legal and New York state had a longstanding policy of recognizing marriages performed elsewhere, even if they are not explicitly allowed under New York law.

While gay rights advocates widely praised the spirit of Mr. Paterson’s policy, some saw more than a little irony in the fact that New York has yet to allow gays to marry.

“If you’re going to treat us as equals, why don’t you just give us the marriage license?” said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda. “So this is a temporary but necessary fix for a longer-term problem, which is marriage equality in New York State.”


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