By Gerri Elder
While same-sex marriage bans have only been lifted in the states of Massachusetts and most recently, California, the governor of New York says that his state must recognize gay marriages performed in these states in the same way that any other legally performed union is recognized. Governor David Patterson also said that New York will recognize gay marriages performed in Canada.
The governor instructed all state agencies to begin updating their regulations to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states and Canada. Patterson's instructions to the agencies came less than 24 hours before California legalized gay marriage on May 15, 2008 by way of a California Supreme Court decision which struck down the ban on same-sex marriages, according to a report by the New York Times.
The governor's new rule that gay marriages are to be recognized in New York could cover more than 1,300 state regulations covering everything from the filing of joint tax returns to the transfer of fishing licenses between spouses. Presumably this decision could also alter the face of divorce in New York as well, removing hurdles in the state for gay couples who wish to divorce.
MTV reported that during a videotaped message to gay community leaders on May 17, 2008, Patterson described his decision as a "strong step towards marriage equality." Gay rights groups as well as gay marriage opponents view Patterson's decision as a move towards the legalization of New York gay marriages.
Laws have been passed in 41 states to strictly limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. Massachusetts and California courts have lifted the ban on same-sex marriages, and in Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont, civil unions of same-sex couples are recognized. The differing state laws make divorce a complex issue for same-sex couples who have been legally married but now live in states that do not recognize gay marriage. The recognition of gay marriages in New York will remove some of the complexities of gay divorce.
Patterson's new regulations regarding the recognition of gay marriages in New York are set to take effect in mid-June unless a court intervenes on the issue. However, the new regulations are not without opposition and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno has told NY1 that he believes the governor may have overstepped his boundaries. Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long says that Patterson's new regulations violate the New York Constitution and that he has broken his oath of office. The head of the state's Catholic Conference has also spoken out against Patterson's decision.
On June 4, 2008, the New York Times reported that Patterson is being sued by five New York state lawmakers who are backed by a conservative Christian policy group. The lawsuit seeks to block the governor's new regulations that direct state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and has been filed in the New York State Supreme Court in the Bronx. The lawmakers allege that Patterson has overridden the state legislation with his decision and has "overridden the will of the people."
If the lawsuit against Patterson is successful, the state will not recognize gay marriages, and gay divorce will remain as problematic as ever for same-sex couples who are married in Massachusetts or California and relocate to New York.