NY Court Upholds Ruling to Recognize Out-of-state Same-sex Marriages

January 26, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The appellate division of the state of New York's Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that same-sex marriages of state employees that are valid in the jurisdictions where they were solemnized will be recognized for purposes of spousal benefits.

In its opinion, the appellate court noted that New York’s marriage recognition rule “recognizes as valid a marriage considered valid in the place where celebrated” unless the out-of-state marriage falls within one of two exceptions: where there is a New York statute expressing clearly the Legislature’s intent to void a marriage legally entered into in another jurisdiction or where an aspect of the out-of-state marriage is abhorrent to New York public policy, such as incest, polygamy, or where one party was under the age of consent for New York. The court decided there was no state statute expressing clearly the intent not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and that New York’s public policy cannot be said to abhor the recognition of same-sex marriages.

The case commenced when the Department of Civil Service announced that it would recognize the parties to a same-sex marriage as spouses if their marriage was valid in the jurisdiction where it was solemnized, thereby allowing such spouses of state employees access to the benefits provided under the New York State Health Insurance Program, according to the opinion. A group of taxpayers filed suit seeking a declaration that the Department’s recognition of such marriages is illegal, unconstitutional, and results in the unlawful disbursement of public funds.

The state’s Supreme Court, in March 2008, granted summary judgment to the Department of Civil Service, and the taxpayers then appealed, arguing that same-sex marriages fall within the second exception to New York’s marriage recognition rule.

Last February, the appellate division came to the same conclusion in a similar case (see NY Court Rules to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages from Out-of-state ).

The case is Lewis v. New York State Dep’t of Civil Service, N.Y. App. Div., No. 504900, 1/22/09.