Tuesday, February 5, 2008

NY court recognizes lesbian couple's out-of-state marriage

Last Friday, an appellate court in New York State held that valid same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions must be recognized just as opposite-sex marriages are. The case was brought by a woman whose employer refused to recognize her Canadian marriage for purposes of the employee health plan. The employer argued that, since the New York Court of Appeals held in 2006 that New York law does not provide for same-sex couples to marry, the couple's union was not valid under New York law. The couirt concluded that, while New York did not provde for such marriages, neither did it have such a declared public policy against recognizing them. The court also rejected the argument that same-sex marriages, like incestuous or polygamous unions, are so abhorrent to "the public sense of morality" (as the old cases put it) that they shouldn't be recognized. Such a feeling may prevail in other parts, but the court rightly concluded that public abhorrence of same-sex marriage in New York is not so clear. I'm of course biased, but I'd expect an affirmance bythe Court of Appeals. (More discussion of the case at Prof. Arthur Leonard's blog.)

Now, this case involved a Canadian marriage - not one celebrated Massachusetts. Last year in the Cote-Whitacre case, the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared that a 1913 statute barred out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying if their marriage would be prohibited in their home state. On remand, the superior court interpreted the NY Court of Appeals decision as a declaration that such marriages are prohibited in New York, and therefore New York couples can't wed in Massachusetts. This holding seems to be in tension with last Friday's ruling. I'm not choice of law guru, but I'd think that if New York says it would recognize the marriages, there's no reason for the "reverse evasion" statute to bar them. I wonder if this question will return to the Massachusetts courts in the near future.

And of course, whether this will have any impact on the debate over the Spitzer-backed marriage equality bill also remains to be seen.

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