Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in New York since July 24, 2011, under the Marriage Equality Act, which was passed by the New York State Legislature on June 24, 2011 and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on the same day. The Marriage Equality Act does not have a residency restriction, as some other states do, and allows religious organizations to decline to officiate same-sex wedding ceremonies.
- New Paltz marriages
- Legislative activity
- Marriage Equality Act
- Recognition of out of state same sex marriages
- Economic impact of allowing same sex couples to marry
- Marriage statistics
- Public opinion
- Hernndez case
- Shields case
- Samuels case
- Seymour case
- Kane case
In 2006, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the New York state constitution does not require same-sex marriage rights and left the question of recognition to the legislature. Following the 2006 Court decision, the New York State Assembly passed same-sex marriage legislation in 2007, 2009, and 2011. However, the New York Senate rejected same-sex marriage legislation in a 38–24 vote on December 2, 2009. After negotiations between Republican members of the Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo, regarding protections against discrimination lawsuits for religious groups and non-profit organizations, the bill passed the State Senate by a vote of 33–29. The law took effect on July 24, 2011.
New York became the seventh U.S. state, after New Hampshire, and the eighth jurisdiction after the District of Columbia, to license same-sex marriages.
New Paltz marriages
On February 27, 2004, New Paltz Mayor Jason West married 25 same-sex couples before a cheering crowd in front of the New Paltz Village Hall. Not long thereafter, the Ulster County District Attorney charged West with nineteen misdemeanors in connection with these marriages. A court later dismissed the charges against West, a ruling which the state appealed. Ulster County Court Judge J. Michael Bruhn ruled in favor of the state, reinstating the charges against West, arguing that this criminal case did not concern whether the state constitution mandates same-sex marriage, but rather whether West violated his oath of office in performing illegal marriages. The May 2005 charges against West were reinstated; these were dropped by the prosecutor on July 12. After Liberty Counsel filed a civil lawsuit challenging the validity of the marriages, a state court judge issued a permanent injunction barring West from solemnizing same-sex marriages.
On February 27, 2004, Nyack, New York, mayor John Shields announced that he would recognize the New Paltz marriages and on March 1, 2004, Ithaca mayor Carolyn K. Peterson declared that she would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
Two days later, then-Attorney General of New York Eliot Spitzer, a supporter of same-sex marriage, issued an "informal opinion" stating that municipal clerks should not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples since the New York State Legislature had not intended for the Domestic Relations Law to cover same-sex couples.
Shortly after Attorney General Spitzer's informal opinion was issued, five separate lawsuits were filed contesting the constitutionality of New York's opposite-sex definition of marriage. At the trial level, four failed and one succeeded (though it was stayed and later reversed). At the intermediate appellate level, four failed and one was not decided. The cases were all rolled into one and heard by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, on May 31, 2006. On July 6, 2006, the Court of Appeals in Hernandez v. Robles decided that New York law does not permit same-sex marriage and that there is no state constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
Following the Hernandez v Robles decision, the focus of the same-sex marriage battle shifted to the executive and legislative branches of government. During his successful campaign for Governor of New York, Attorney General Spitzer said that he would push to legalize same-sex marriage if elected, and he proposed legislation to that effect to the state legislature on April 27, 2007. This legislation passed in the State Assembly on June 19, 2007, but the State Senate took no action and returned it to the Assembly.
In February 2008, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department ruled unanimously in Martinez v. County of Monroe that because New York legally recognizes out-of-state marriages of opposite-sex couples, it must do the same for same-sex couples. On May 6, 2008, the Court of Appeals declined to hear Monroe County's appeal. In November 2008, Monroe County announced that it would not pursue any further appeals of the Appellate Division's decision.
Same-sex marriage legislation passed the New York State Assembly for the first time on June 19, 2007.
On March 12, 2008, Eliot Spitzer resigned his position as Governor of New York. Following Spitzer's resignation, Lieutenant Governor David Paterson was sworn in as the 55th Governor of New York on March 17, 2008 by New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye. On April 9, 2008, the new governor pledged that he would continue to push for same-sex marriage legislation. The new governor said he was "proud to have run on a ticket with now former Gov. Eliot Spitzer that was the first in the country to advocate for marriage equality and to win on that premise." "We will push on and bring full marriage equality in New York State", Paterson said.
On November 4, 2008, the Democratic Party gained a majority in the New York State Senate. Following the elections, three dissenting Senate Democrats declined to assure Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith that they would vote for him as Senate Majority Leader when the Senate convened in January 2009. In December 2008, an agreement was allegedly reached between Senator Smith and the so-called "Gang of Three"; reports indicated that as part of the deal, Senator Smith agreed not to bring same-sex marriage legislation to a floor vote in the Senate during the 2009–2010 legislative session. However, on December 10, 2008, Senator Smith announced that the alleged agreement with three Democratic dissidents had been abandoned, and confirmed that he would not pledge to hold off on a same-sex marriage bill in the upcoming session. Senator Smith's decision placed control of the Senate by the Democratic Party in doubt, thus jeopardizing the passage of same-sex marriage legislation (since the Senate Republican leadership is opposed to same-sex marriage). After reaching an agreement with three Democratic dissidents, Malcolm Smith was voted Senate Majority Leader on January 7, 2009.
A bill to legalize same-sex marriage passed the New York State Assembly a second time in 2009. Later in 2009, Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan) claimed that he had lined up support from a sufficient number of Senators to pass same-sex marriage legislation, though opponents disagreed. Senator Malcolm Smith stated he would not put the bill to a vote until he was sure it would pass.
While same-sex marriage advocates declared that same-sex marriage would pass the Senate by the end of June 2009, the bill was not debated and voted upon until December of that year. On December 2, 2009, same-sex marriage legislation was defeated on the floor of the New York State Senate by a vote of 24 to 38; no Republican voted yes, eight Democrats voted no. The Daily News described the defeat as a "major blow", while The New York Times stated that the defeat "all but ensures that the issue is dead in New York until at least 2011, when a new Legislature will be installed." Elected officials and observers opined that the results of a 2009 special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District — in which a Republican candidate who had voted for same-sex marriage withdrew her candidacy in the face of a challenge from a Conservative Party candidate — affected the marriage vote in the Senate.
In late 2010, before the January 2011 expiration of his term as governor, David Paterson reached out to members of the New York State Senate in an attempt to gauge support for the passage of same-sex marriage legislation during a lame-duck session of the Legislature; however, the governor came to the conclusion that passage of the bill during the lame-duck session was not feasible. When asked what would have to occur in order for same-sex marriage to be legalized in New York, Governor Paterson responded, "Get rid of the lobbyists", and added that same-sex marriage advocates had forced a Senate floor vote prematurely in December 2009.
Marriage Equality Act
On June 15, 2011, the New York State Assembly passed the Marriage Equality Act, a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New York, by a margin of 80 to 63; this was a smaller margin of victory than three same-sex marriage bills had attained in the Assembly in prior years. In the Republican-controlled Senate, 3 Democrats and two Republicans who had voted against the 2009 bill indicated their support for legalizing same-sex marriage. The Senate passed the bill on June 24 by a 33–29 vote with 29 Democrats and four Republicans voting in favor. The Gotham Gazette reported that the Senate rules were changed by the Democratic conference to prevent Democrat Ruben Diaz, Sr., an opponent of same-sex marriage, from moving to lay the bill aside for debate; the rules were changed again during the vote to ensure it would conclude in time to make the 11 pm EDT newscasts. Furthermore, Sen. Kevin Parker alleged that on the evening of June 24, the doors to the Senate chamber were locked to prevent senators from leaving the chamber when the bill was voted upon. Rose Miller and Lois Needham had their wedding day, Nov. 22, 2011 in Syracuse, NY after the Marriage Equality Act was signed. The definition of marriage in the state of New York is amended and the following is added to New York's marriage statute:
A marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex.
The bill's passage was celebrated by gay rights supporters both in New York and nationwide. The New York Times responded with an editorial backing the law saying, "New York State has made a powerful and principled choice." Gay pride parades in celebration were held across the US. Gay rights supporters expressed a belief that legalization in New York would lead to legalization elsewhere.
The National Organization for Marriage pledged to spend $2 million in the 2012 elections to defeat the four Republicans and three Democrats who previously stated opposition to same-sex marriage but voted for the bill. The Conservative Party of New York said it would withdraw support for any candidate who voted for the bill. In addition to action from opponents in New York, the New York Times reported that the bill's passage spurred renewed activism from opponents in various places across the country.
On July 12, 2011, the town clerk of Barker, New York, Laura Fotusky, resigned her position because she objects to same-sex marriage and thus would not sign marriage certificates for gay couples. Her resignation came two weeks after another town clerk, from Volney, said she also objected to signing certificates but would not leave her position, saying a deputy clerk would have to do it. The organization New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms said it would match the $25,000 salary Fotusky surrendered when she resigned. Granby town clerk Ruth Sheldon did the same a few days later. Ledyard Town Clerk Rose Marie Belforti made state and national headlines when she notified the Town of Ledyard that she would not sign marriage certificates for same-sex couples due to her religious beliefs. Belforti later delegated marriage applications to a deputy. Same-sex marriage advocates and some town residents criticized Belforti for taking this action, and resident Ed Easter attempted to unseat her in the fall of 2011. Belforti was re-elected by a substantial margin.
On July 25, 2011, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, represented by Liberty Counsel, filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court seeking an injunction against the Marriage Equality Act, alleging corruption and violations of the law in the process of passing the bill. On November 18, 2011, Acting Supreme Court Justice Robert B. Wiggins ruled that the plaintiffs' case could proceed. Justice Wiggins allowed the plaintiffs' claims under the Open Meetings Law, but dismissed other portions of the case. Justice Wiggins' opinion included the following: "It is ironic that much of the state’s brief passionately spews sanctimonious verbiage on the separation of powers in the governmental branches, and clear arm-twisting by the Executive on the Legislative permeates this entire process." On July 6, 2012, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division ruled unanimously that no violation of the Open Meetings Law had occurred and dismissed the suit. On August 6, 2012, Liberty Counsel appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, which declined to hear the appeal on October 23.
Four Republican state senators−Sens. James Alesi, Mark Grisanti, Roy McDonald, and Stephen Saland−voted in favor of same-sex marriage. On May 9, 2012, Alesi announced that he would not run for re-election and indicated that his vote on same-sex marriage would have "severely hampered" his chances in a Republican primary. Grisanti, McDonald, and Saland faced primary challenges in 2012. Grisanti won his primary by a large margin and got re-elected, but was defeated in 2014. McDonald lost the Republican primary to Saratoga County Clerk Kathleen Marchione, who went on to win the general election. Saland defeated primary challenger Neil Di Carlo by 107 votes, but lost the general election to Democrat Terry Gipson by a margin of approximately 2,000 votes. Di Carlo appeared on the Conservative Party line, receiving approximately 15,000 votes. All four of the Republican state senators who voted in favor of the Marriage Equality Act had either retired or lost their seats by January 2015.
In 2011, after the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, the Research Library at the Buffalo History Museum became the first known library in the United States to collect wedding memorabilia from legally-wed same-sex couples.
Recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages
Prior to the passage of same-sex marriage legislation, there was litigation in New York courts regarding the recognition of same-sex marriage licenses from other jurisdictions.
In October 2004, State Comptroller Alan Hevesi indicated that the state's retirement system would recognize same-sex marriages performed outside New York State for purposes of state retirement and pension benefits. Not long thereafter, mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that he would ask that the city's five pension systems recognize domestic partnerships, civil unions, and same-sex marriages of city employees performed in other jurisdictions (such as Massachusetts, Canada, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Oregon, Maine, Hawaii, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Connecticut, California, the District of Columbia and Washington).
In February 2008, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department ruled that a same-sex marriage consummated in Canada should be recognized in New York. In Martinez v. County of Monroe, the court reasoned that because out-of-state opposite-sex marriages that would not have been legal in New York nonetheless are recognized unless such recognition would violate the public policy of the state, out-of-state same-sex marriages must be similarly recognized. The Appellate Division reversed a trial judge's ruling in 2006 that Monroe Community College did not have to extend health benefits to an employee's same-sex spouse. Monroe County subsequently announced its intention to move for leave to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals, New York State's highest courts. However, the Court of Appeals refused to hear the case on May 6, 2008, allowing the lower court's ruling to stand. In November 2008, Monroe County announced that it would not pursue any further appeals of the Appellate Division's decision.
On May 29, 2008, Governor David Paterson directed all New York State agencies to begin to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Governor Paterson's directive cited the Appellate Division decision in the Martinez case, as well as several lower court rulings. As a result of the governor's directive, New York became the first state that did not allow same-sex marriages, but whose state agencies recognized same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. In addition, same-sex couples in New York had the option to travel to states where same-sex marriage was possible to get married and have their marriages fully recognized by New York State agencies.
Governor Paterson's directive was challenged as both premature and unconstitutional in an Article 78 proceeding filed on June 3, 2008, against Governor Paterson by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of several state legislators and conservative leaders; this lawsuit failed at all levels. On September 2, 2008, Justice Lucy A. Billings, of the State Supreme Court in Bronx, New York, issued a decision that Governor Paterson acted within his powers when he required state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages from outside the state. Justice Billings found that the governor's order was consistent with state laws on the recognition of marriages from other jurisdictions. The Court of Appeals agreed to hear this and another case on same-sex marriage recognition in 2009. The Court decided these cases on narrow grounds, finding that the state acted within its authority without reaching the issue of marriage recognition; however, a three-justice minority would have ruled more broadly in support of marriage recognition.
Economic impact of allowing same sex couples to marry
The New York City Comptroller's office issued an updated economic analysis in May 2009 finding that New York State's economy could gain $210 million in the three years immediately following the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples.
According to Mayor Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, NYC & Company CEO George Fertitta and New York City Clerk Michael McSweeney, "same sex-marriages in New York City have generated an estimated $259 million in economic impact and $16 million in City revenues" in the first year after the enactment of the Marriage Equality Act.
From July 2011 to December 2012, approximately 12,285 same-sex marriages were celebrated in the state of New York.
An April 2009 Siena poll of likely New York voters indicated that 53% of voters supported same-sex marriage and 39% opposed it. The April poll showed that registered Democrats supported same-sex marriage by a 59% to 35% margin, while registered Republicans opposed it by virtually the same margin, 59% to 31%. A SurveyUSA poll from the same time period showed 49% of New Yorkers supporting Same-Sex marriage with 44% opposed. However, a May 26 Siena poll indicated an even, 46%–46% split on the issue.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released on May 14, 2009, New York voters were evenly split—46% to 46%—on same-sex marriage. The May 14 poll showed that same-sex marriage was opposed by majorities of African-Americans (57%–35%), Republicans (68%–24%), white Catholics (53%–39%), and white Protestants (55%–38%). However, a Quinnipiac poll dated June 23, 2009 showed that New York State voters support same-sex marriage 51-41 percent, with eight percent undecided. According to the June 23 poll, the proposal wins 52 – 42 percent support from white voters and 55 – 39 percent from Hispanics. African-American voters polled 43 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed.
In 2010, The New York Times estimated support for same-sex marriage in New York at 58 percent, based on projections from 2008 and a nationwide CNN poll in August 2010.
An April 2011 Siena College survey found that 58% of New York voters supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, while 36% were opposed and 6% did not know or had no opinion. A similar poll in May 2011 found that 55% supported legalization, 42% opposed it, and 5% didn't know or have no opinion. The June 2011 poll showed a 55%/50%/5% split.
Following the passage of the Marriage Equality Act, a Marist Poll reported that 55% of New York adults supported the legalization of same-sex marriage and 63% did not want the law overturned.
A December 2012 Quinnipiac University poll showed that New Yorkers widely favored same sex marriage. 60% favored same sex marriage, while 33% were opposed. 7% were unsure.
A December 2013 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 60% of New York residents support same-sex marriage, while 32% opposed, and 9% didn't know or refused to answer.
A March 2014 Roanoke/ Rutgers-Eagleton/ Siena college study found that 65% of New York residents favored same-sex marriage, while 32% opposed. 3% were unsure.