NY Expands Same-Sex Benefits Policy

September 14, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.COM) - New York state authorities have expanded the Empire State's policy of giving benefits to same-sex partners of government workers married in Canada to those married anywhere allowing the unions.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced the new policy this week after a state court judge threw out a lawsuit seeking to block the provision of same-sex benefits.The DiNapoli decision affects only pension benefits and only for those enrolled in the New York State and Local Retirement System.

“This is a great day for New Yorkers who believe in fairness and equality,” DiNapoli said in  his announcement.  “The courts have ruled. The law is clear, and it’s not just Canada. New York State recognizes any marriage that has been conducted in accordance with the laws of other states and countries – and that includes same-sex marriages.”

The latest policy shift broadens the move made in 2004 when the state’s $150-billion pension fund said it would provide benefits such as accidental death and cost-of-living retirement adjustments to same-sex partners of government employees legally married in Canada (See  Empire State Couple Wins Equal State Benefits ).

The legal challenge to the practice came from the Alliance Defense Fund, a group based in Scottsdale, Arizona, which filed the suit dismissed by acting State Supreme Court Judge Thomas McNamara. McNamara said the practice by the comptroller is “consistent” with New York law of recognizing marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

The Arizona group that challenged the comptroller’s pension decision argued that the policy went against a 2006 decision by the state Court of Appeals, which said that the state’s current ban on same-sex marriages is not unconstitutional.

“Under this theory, the laws of other countries and other states now become the laws of New York, circumventing the legislative process and creating a situation where same-sex marriages are recognized in New York without the legislative process,” Alliance Defense Fund spokesman Brian Raum told the Buffalo News.

Besides Canada, same-sex marriages have been legalized in Massachusetts, Belgium, Spain, and South Africa. Gay couples from New York cannot go to Massachusetts to get married, but a couple already married in Massachusetts and relocating to New York would be covered by the new pension policy.

The judge’s ruling is  here .