Same Sex Marriage Bill Passes in New York

On June 24, 2011, New York Senate voted, 33-29, to give final approval to a bill, A-08354, that recognizes same sex marriage in New York. Govenor Andrew M. Cuomo immediately signed the bill which will become effective in 30 days.

The bill, codified as the Marriage Equality Act amends the Domestic Relations Law to provide:

• A marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex

• No government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being the same sex or a different sex

• All relevant gender-specific language set forth in or referenced by New York law shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner

• No application for a marriage license shall be denied on · the ground that the parties are of the same or a different sex

Under the bill, the rights under same-sex marriage will include:

• Employer-sponsored health insurance.

• Equitable property distribution, maintenance, custody and visitation if the couple divorces.

• A presumption that a child in a dissolved marriage is the child of both parents.

• Statutory inheritance rights.

• The right to bring a claim for the wrongful death of a spouse.

• The right to seek Workers’ Compensation death benefits.

• The spousal privilege in legal proceedings.

Same-Sex Spouse Needn’t Be Certified to Adopt Partner’s Child

In November of 2008, I wrote about New York courts granting a divorce to a same sex couple. In C.M. v. C.C. (Sup. Ct. New York Co. October 14, 2008), the trial court held that the New York court had subject matter jurisdiction to grant a divorce to a same sex couple who were married in Massachussetts. The trial court held that in following Martinez v. County of Monroe and other cases dealing with recognition of the same sex marriage, it had the subject marriage jurisdiction and the divorce case between two women could continue. Since that time, we are seeing various rulings that followed the holding in Martinez. A few days ago, in Matter of Donna S., 2009 N.Y. Slip Op. 29009 (Fam. Ct., Monroe County, AC-14386-08), Judge Joan S. Kohout, held that there was no need for the same-sex spouse of a woman due to give birth in March to seek pre-certification to adopt her partner’s child. Judge Kohout ruled that because the couple’s Canadian marriage is recognized under New York law, the spouse could be treated exactly the same as the husband of a woman who became pregnant through donor insemination, in which case neither pre-certification nor an adoption proceeding would be necessary to establish a parental relationship with the child.

According to Judge Kohout’s opinion, Donna R.S. and Lisa P. were married on July 4, 2007, in Ontario, Canada. Lisa has become pregnant through donor insemination, and is due to give birth in March. Donna initiated the process of being approved as an adoptive parent, with the intention of adopting the child when he/she is born. As part of a normal adoption process, she submitted to a home study by a social worker, who produced a positive report, and then she submitted her petition to the court to be “pre-certified” as an adoptive parent, so the adoption procedure could be handled expeditiously after the child is born.

Pre-certification is a legal process that is typically handled at the start of every adoption. A successful pre-certification process is critical and involves filing pleadings with the appropriate court, a home study, child abuse clearance and criminal record check. Once a prospective adoptive parent has been precertified, he/she can proceed with pursuing a domestic adoption. The “certification” includes a homestudy, child abuse clearance and criminal record check prior to the adoption, and a follow-up homestudy before the adoption is finalized. This requirement was brought into being as a result of the infamous Steinberg case, so that all parties in the adoption process are protected.

The petition did not specify that Donna was seeking to adopt any particular child, but merely wished to be certified as qualified in general to be an adoptive parent. The home study made it clear to the court that her intention was to adopt her same-sex spouse’s child.

Judge Kohout considered the pre-certification process to be unnecessary. Pointing out that the Appellate Division’s ruling last year in Martinez means that “the marriage of same sex couples legally married in other jurisdictions must be recognized by New York,” and mentioning as well that Governor David Paterson had directed New York state agencies to “apply statutes and regulations in a gender neutral manner to same sex parties validly married in another jurisdiction,” Judge Kohout decided to treat Donna similarly to the husband of a woman who has become pregnant through donor insemination.

In those situations, an adoption proceeding is unnecessary. Spouse’s parental status is established by the parties’ execution of a consent form, indicating their agreement that the birth mother’s spouse will be the legal parent of the child.

Additionally, Judge Kohout considered an alternative approach: “Since Ms. S. is the spouse of Ms. P., she will at the very least be considered a step-parent to Ms. P.’s child after the child’s birth. Step-parents are not required to be pre-certified as qualified adoptive parents for the purpose of adopting their spouse’s child.” However, step-parents would have to fulfill a one year waiting period to adopt, or get approval to waive the waiting period from the court.

In conclusion, Judge Kohout stated that the situation could be resolved by the statute governing donor insemination, pointing out that “a child born to a married woman by artificial insemination is deemed the legal child of the husband if both spouses execute a consent to that effect. Given the holding in Martinez, it would seem that by the simple execution of a consent, Ms. S. could become the baby’s legal parent without the necessity of an adoption.”

However, since all the paperwork was in order and there was a positive home study report on file, Judge Kohout granted the pre-certification petition, so the petitioner was eligible to adopt a child until the expiration of the petition in May 2010.

New York Court Grants Same Sex Divorce

A New York judge has ruled recently in C.M. v. C.C. (Sup. Ct. New York Co. October 14, 2008), that the New York court had subject matter jurisdiction to grant a divorce to a same sex couple who were married in Massachussetts. The court held that in following Martinez v. County of Monroe and other cases dealing with recognition of the same sex marriage, it had the subject marriage jurisdiction and the divorce case between two women could continue. The couple can now obtain their divorce in New York, assuming that they have sufficient grounds to do so, and meet other jurisdictional requirements of New York’s Domestic Relations Law.

I have previously written about Martinez v. County of Monroe, so this decision is merely a logical extension of that decision.