Court: N.Y. agencies can give benefits to same-sex couples married elsewhere - Catholic Courier

Court: N.Y. agencies can give benefits to same-sex couples married elsewhere

The New York State Court of Appeals ruled Nov. 19 that it is legal for state agencies to grant health-insurance coverage and other benefits to same-sex couples who were married in other states and countries.

The seven judges considering the case said nothing in state law would prevent the state from extending benefits to such couples. The court did not rule on whether same-sex marriages legally could be performed in New York, but instead left that decision to the state Legislature.

“We end by … expressing our hope that the Legislature will address this controversy; that it ‘will listen and decide as wisely as it can; and that those unhappy with the result — as many undoubtedly will be — will respect it as people in a democratic state should respect choices democratically made,'” the judges wrote in the ruling.

The decision closed two cases — Kenneth J. Lewis v. New York State Department of Civil Service and Margaret Godfrey v. Andrew J. Spano — in which taxpayer plaintiffs challenged executive and county officials’ directives to state and Westchester County agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the state.

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, which brought the suits, expressed disappointment with the ruling.

“State and local officials should not use marriage laws from outside jurisdictions to subvert the legislature,” ADF Senior Counsel Brian Raum said in a statement. “We are disappointed that the court did not address the real issue in this case: whether New York law requires the recognition of same-sex ‘marriages’ from outside the state. In New York, the only relationship recognized as marriage is the committed union of a man and a woman.”

The New York State Catholic Conference previously has decried such directives, most recently objecting to Gov. David Paterson’s June 2008 memo instructing state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the state. In a statement released Nov. 23, however, the Catholic conference’s executive director opined that the decision actually was a setback for advocates of same-sex marriage and a victory for those who are opposed to redefining marriage.

“The Court merely held that the state Department of Civil Service and since-defeated Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano were within their legal authority to extend marital benefits to ‘spouses’ of civil employees. However, the state specifically declined to expand the ruling to alter the state’s marriage recognition law, which means the ruling has no impact on private employers and no applicability at all other than the provision of employee benefits to the state’s public workforce,” Executive Director Richard Barnes explained in his statement.

The court left the task of defining marriage to the state Legislature, yet currently, state law prohibits same-sex marriage, Barnes continued in his statement.

“Therefore, the legislature is addressing it (same-sex marriage) by its inaction to change it. If it is the will of the legislature not to redefine marriage, there is no action necessary; it is already the law of the state,” he stated.

This story was updated on Nov. 23, 2009.

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