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MarriageAppeals Court Recognizes Canadian Gay Marriage

February 4, 2008

A New York appeals court unanimously ruled that a gay couple’s marriage in Canada should be recognized in New York.

As pointed out in the Sui Generis-a New York Law Blog, at issue in Martinez v. County of Monroe was whether Monroe Community College properly denied health care benefits to the female partner of a female student. The MCC student had previously married her partner in Canada.

The New York Legal Update fills in some more of the relevant facts:

On July 5, 2004, the plaintiff Patricia Martinez married her same-sex partner, Lisa Ann Golden, in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Ms. Martinez was an employee of the defendant Monroe Community College, in Rochester. 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 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 Court had to decide whether the parties were legally married.   The Court then provided a review of  the test of recognizing the validity of marriages obtained outside of New York:

For well over a century, New York has recognized marriages solemnized outside of New York unless they fall into two categories of exception: (1) marriage, the recognition of which is prohibited by the "positive law" of New York and (2) marriages involving incest or polygamy, both of which fall within the prohibitions of "natural law"  . . .

Thus, if a marriage is 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 marriages which would have not been valid if solemnized in New York.

We conclude that plaintiff’s marriage does not fall within either of the two exceptions to the marriage-recognition rA]bsentA]bsent any New York statute expressing clearly the Legislature’s intent to regulate within this State marriages domiciliariesdomiciliariesso Van Voorhis, 86 NY at 37). The Legislature has not enacted legislation to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages validly entered into outside of New York, and we thus conclude that the positive law exceptiVoorhishe general rule of foreign marriage recognition is not applicable in this case. .  .

The natural law exception also is not applicable. That exception has generally been limited to marriages involving polygamy or incest or marriages "offensive to the public sense of morality to a degree regarded generally with abhorrence" (May, 305 NY at 493), and that cannot be said here. . . . .

The Court of Appeals noted that the Legislature may enact legislation recognizing same-sex marriages and, in our view, the Court of Appeals thereby indicated that the recognition of plaintiff’s marriage is not against the public policy of New York. It is also worth noting that, unlike the overwhelming majority of states, New York has not chosen, pursuant to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (28 USC § 1738C), to enact legislation denying full faith and credit to same-sex marriages validly solemnized in another state.

The Court concluded that the plaintiff’s marriage to 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.

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