Massachusetts Same Sex Marriage and Same Sex Couples Residing in New York

On July 29, 2008, the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to repeal the 1913 law that prohibited non-resident gay and lesbian couples from marrying in Massachusetts, unless their home state also would recognize their marriage. Now that both the Senate and the House have passed the legislation to repeal the 1913 law, the bill will go to Governor Duval Patrick, who is expected to sign it. As a result of the repeal of the statute, gay and lesbian couples residing in other states would now be permitted to marry in Massachusetts, even if their home states would not permit them to marry in their home states.

While New York will not allow same sex couples to wed, it will recognize marriages performed in jurisdictions that allow same sex marriage. In doing so, the New York courts will follow the precedent set in Martinez v. County of Monroe. In that case, the plaintiff brought a challenge to Monroe Community College’s denial of health care benefits to the female partner of a female student. The Appellate Division had considered the following facts. On July 5, 2004, Patricia Martinez married her same-sex partner, Lisa Ann Golden, in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Ms. Martinez was an employee of Monroe Community College, in Rochester, New York. On the basis of that marriage, Ms. Martinez applied to the college two days later, on July 7, 2004, for spousal health care benefits for Ms. Golden. The College admittedly provided health care benefits for the opposite-sex spouses of its employees. However, on November 24, 2004, the College’s Director of Human Resources denied the plaintiff’s application for spousal health care benefits. The plaintiff then commenced an action seeking, among other things, a declaration that the College’s failure to recognize her marriage for purposes of her spousal health care benefits application violated her rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the New York State Constitution and Executive Law §296.

In deciding the couple’s rights to insurance coverage, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, had to decide whether the parties were legally married. It held that if a marriage was valid in the place where it was entered, “it is to be recognized as such in the courts of this State, unless contrary to the prohibitions of natural law or the express prohibitions of a statute”. The Court then pointed out that by applying the “marriage-recognition” rule, New York has recognized a marriage which would have not been valid if solemnized in New York.

The Appellate Division concluded that Ms. Martinez’ marriage to Ms. Golden, which was valid in the Province of Ontario, Canada, would be entitled to recognition in New York. The Court concluded that absent express legislation to the contrary, prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages, such marriages would be entitled to recognition in New York.

Following the decision in Martinez v. Monroe County, in the case Beth R. v. Donna M., Acting Supreme Court Justice Drager ruled that a same-sex marriage, validly entered into in a jurisdiction that allows same-sex marriages, would be entitled to full legal recognition in New York. This is the first time that a New York court recognized a same sex marriage in the context of a same-sex divorce action.

The decision went further, applying the expanding theory of equitable estoppel to address the issue as to whether Beth’s motion for declaration of her parental rights can be entertained by the court. Her legal position was in question since she did not legally adopt the two children but served as their mother in fact. The Court concluded that “the facts here warrant granting Plaintiff’s motion to enable this court to determine whether the best interests of the children warrant granting custodial rights to Plaintiff.”

Earlier this spring, New York Governor David A. Patterson has issued an directive requiring all New York State agencies to offer gay couples, wed in jurisdictions that allow same sex marriage (like Canada, Massachusetts and now California), the same legal rights as enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

All of the above is likely to make same sex marriage a reality in New York State, despite a lack of statutory authorization by the New York Legislature. New York couples will be able to travel to Massachusetts with the sole purpose of getting married and have their marriage recognized in the State of New York.

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