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Martinez v. County of Monroe et al. (Seeking recognition in New York for valid same-sex marriages performed outside the state)

This case concerns whether valid same-sex marriages performed outside the state are entitled to recognition in New York. Patricia Martinez, an employee of Monroe Community College, married her partner, Lisa Ann Golden, in Canada in 2004. The college, which offers spousal health care benefits to employees in opposite-sex marriages, refused Martinez’s request to provide Golden benefits.

On Jan. 13, 2005, the NYCLU filed a complaint on behalf of Ms. Martinez in the State Supreme Court of Monroe County. The suit alleged that Ms. Martinez and her partner are being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. The lawsuit asked the county and college to recognize the couple’s valid marriage under the state’s “marriage recognition rule,” the more than century-old law that requires New York State to recognize marriages performed outside the state. The state trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case. In response, the NYCLU appealed to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department. The NYCLU asked the Fourth Department to vacate the lower Court’s decision, grant the plaintiff declaratory relief and remand the case to the trial court for a hearing regarding monetary damages. The case was briefed in June 2007.

On Feb. 1, 2008, the appeals court unanimously decided that Martinez’s marriage to Ms. Golden is entitled to recognition under the marriage recognition rule. The court based its ruling on the fact that New York does not have a law prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages and that recognizing such marriages would not violate public policy. The appeals court also ruled that by failing to recognize the marriage, the college and county violated state Human Rights Law by discriminating against the couple based on their sexual orientation.

On Feb. 28, 2008, the county filed a motion asking the Court of Appeals to review the case. On May 6, 2008, the state’s highest court rejected the county’s request for appeal as premature, which allows the intermediate appeals court’s decision stand until the remaining issues in the case – like the determination of the damages – have been fully litigated. At that point, the county could seek another appeal, but the highest court would not necessarily have to review the decision.

On Nov. 21, 2008, the county announced that it would drop its appeal. Citing to the Martinez decision, Gov. David A. Paterson issued a memo to state agencies on May 14, 2008, calling on them to follow the law by revising their policies and regulations to cover gay and lesbian couples who were married out of state. 

State Supreme Court, Monroe County, Index No. 433-05 (direct) 

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