Albany, N.Y. (AP) - Same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere will be recognized in New York in response to a state court ruling this year, Gov. David Paterson's spokeswoman said Wednesday.
State agencies, including those governing insurance and health care, must immediately change policies and regulations to make sure "spouse," "husband" and "wife" are clearly understood to include gay couples, according to a memo sent earlier this month from the governor's counsel.
Gay marriage is not legal in New York, and the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, has said it can only be legalized by the Legislature. But the memo, based on a Feb. 1 New York Appellate Division court ruling, would recognize the marriages of New Yorkers who are legally wed elsewhere.
The appellate judges determined that there is no legal impediment in New York to the recognition of a same-sex marriage. The state Legislature "may decide to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages solemnized abroad," the ruling said. "Until it does so, however, such marriages are entitled to recognition in New York."
Paterson spokeswoman Erin Duggan said the May 14 memo is intended to guide the actions of state agencies.
The memo states that failure to include gay marriages in the dispensing of state services such as health care benefits could violate state human rights law. The agencies could face sanctions for any violations, the memo warns.
The agency changes can be instituted through internal memos or changes in regulations and would not require legislative action, Paterson counsel David Nocenti said in the memo, which was first reported by The New York Times.
The February appellate decision involved the case of a woman whose female partner was denied health benefits by her employer even though she had been legally married in Canada.
(Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)