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New York high court rules same-sex spouses of state employees entitled to benefits

[JURIST] The New York Court of Appeals [official website] on Thursday dismissed a challenge [opinion, PDF] to two policies that provide benefits to same-sex couples married outside of the state. The first policy was a 2006 decision by the Westchester County executive to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of county employees. The second policy was a 2006 decision [memorandum, PDF] by the president of the New York Civil Service Commission, mandating an extension of full benefits to all spouses of state employees enrolled in the New York State Health Insurance Plan. Prior to that decision, extension of benefits to same-sex spouses was at the discretion of the individual state agencies. In explaining the court's decision to affirm the Appellate Division's dismissal, Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. stated that in regards to the Westchester policy, the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence of specific harms resulting from the policy, relying instead on, "bare legal conclusions with no factual specificity." In regards to the State Civil Service Commission policy, Pigott noted that under sections 161 and 164 of the New York Civil Service Laws [legislative materials], the commission president is authorized to establish a health insurance plan for state officers and their dependents, and that the president has discretion to define the scope of dependents for purposes of benefits. In a concurring opinion joined by three others, Judge Carmen Ciparick stated that she would have simply affirmed the dismissal on the grounds that, "same-sex marriages, valid where performed, are entitled to full legal recognition in New York under our State's longstanding marriage recognition rule."

Currently, New York does not permit same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive], but in April, Governor David Patterson announced legislation [JURIST report] that would allow same-sex couples to be married in the state. That legislation was approved [JURIST report] by the state assembly in May, and a senate vote is expected before the end of the year [NYT report]. Patterson had previously issued an order to all state agencies in 2008 to recognize same-sex marriages, citing a New York Appellate Division ruling [JURIST reports] that same-sex marriages performed out of state are entitled to recognition in New York.

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