New York Legislature bolsters marriage equality actions by courts & executive branch officials

Posted by Arthus S. Leonard on

"On August 14, New York Governor David Paterson signed into law A9753/S3890, making New York the last state in the union to authorize divorces without a judicial finding of fault attributable to one or both of the spouses. The no-fault divorce bill amends Section 170 of the N.Y. Domestic Relations Law to add a seventh ground for divorce: that a marriage has irretrievably broken down for a period of at least six months. In a memo accompanying the bill, the State Assembly committee in which it originated took care to avoid any implication that by passing new domestic relations legislation that uses the terms 'husband' and 'wife,' the legislature might be seen as casting any doubt upon or seeking to undermine recent court opinions in New York providing recognition for marriages of same-sex couples contracted outside the state. (New York at present does not honor marriages of same-sex couples contracted within the state.)

"The pertinent paragraph of the committee’s memo states, in full: 'It is the intent of this legislation to grant full recognition and respect to valid marriages of same-sex couples to obtain relief under New York State laws and in New York’s courts. While the Domestic Relations Law uses the terms 'husband and wife' in some places and 'plaintiff and defendant' in others, in using the terms 'husband and wife', it is not the intent of this legislation to preclude access to relief under the Domestic Relations Law by same-sex couples with valid marriages performed outside the state. Current New York law, written to apply to 'husband and wife,' has been properly interpreted by New York courts to allow relief for same-sex couples with valid marriages. It is not the intent of this legislation to alter the interpretations of this case law including Martinez v. County of Monroe, 50 A.D.3d 189, 850 N.Y.S.2d 740 (4th Dep’t 2008), Beth R.V. v. Donna M., 19 Misc. 3d 724 (Sup.Ct., N.Y. County 2008), and C.M. v. C.C., 867 N.Y.S.2d 884 (Sup.Ct., N.Y. County 2008), nor is it the intent of this legislation to alter New York State’s policy to recognize out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.'

"Although technically this memorandum, accompanying specific legislation, serves as legislative history to counter any adverse inferences against marriage recognition that might be drawn by courts confronting cases involving married same-sex couples under the Domestic Relations Law, the last sentence signals a more general endorsement of the actions that both the courts and Governor Paterson and other executive government officials have taken in New York to provide recognition to same-sex partners. ..."

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