Appeals Court Says State Must Recognize New York Couple’s Same-Sex Marriage

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February 1, 2008 —  In a unanimous decision, a New York appellate court today ruled that marriages of same-sex couples entered into outside of New York must be recognized in this state. The case, filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, is the first appellate court decision in the state and 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 NYCLU. “Congratulations to all same-sex couples validly married outside of New York State: You are now husband and husband, and 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 case, Martinez v. County of Monroe, was filed in 2005 in State Supreme Court on behalf of Patricia Martinez , an employee of Monroe Community College in Rochester, seeking health care benefits for her female partner whom she married in Canada in 2004.

This case raised the issue of whether the time honored “marriage recognition rule,” which requires New York State to recognize marriages that were solemnized outside the state, applies to same-sex marriages. The court answered with a resounding yes, holding that the couple’s valid Canadian marriage at issue in the case is entitled to recognition.

“If a marriage is valid in the state or country in which the marriage took place, New York law generally requires the recognition of that marriage,” said Arthur Eisenberg, the NYCLU’s legal director. “This case involved a straightforward application of that principle.”

Martinez has been a word processing supervisor for Monroe Community College in Rochester since 1994. Her wife, Lisa Golden, was employed as an inventory control specialist and had her own benefits until she lost her benefits in the spring of 2004. The women have been in a long term, committed relationship since 2000. They own a home together, share financial responsibility for their expenses and each other’s needs and have drawn up mutual wills.

“Gay and lesbian couples make the same long term commitments to each other as heterosexual couples,” said Gary Pudup, director of the NYCLU’s Genessee Valley Chapter. “This case highlights the fact that same sex couples are entitled to the same protection under state law.”

“Today’s decision is a great step forward for same-sex couples in New York,” said James Esseks, litigation director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project of the ACLU. “But there is still lots of work to be done here. It’s now up to the state legislature to finish the job it started last year and pass the marriage bill so that lesbian and gay New Yorkers won’t have to leave the state to celebrate their commitments.”

Tony Kushner, award-winning playwright and marriage fairness advocate, called the ruling "wonderful."

"There's still much to do, and a long way to go, but this decision seems to me a significant step forward in securing equal treatment under the law for the LGBT community," he said. "This is why I'm proud to be a member of the NYCLU."

Jeff Wicks was cooperating attorney to the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation.

Click here to read the decision (PDF).