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May 29, 2008

NY Governor Issues Directive To Recognize Gay Marriages From Other States

ALBANY — As New York lawmakers pondered a new directive from Gov. David A. Paterson that state agencies begin revising their policies to honor same-sex marriages conducted outside New York. The Legislature’s top Republican said he had yet to decide whether to challenge the governor.
Joseph L. Bruno, the majority leader of the State Senate, said Thursday morning that he was surprised by the governor’s order but had not yet read it.
“I’m not going to second-guess it because I haven’t seen it,” Mr. Bruno said. “I don’t know the ramifications of this.”
On May 14, Mr. Paterson’s legal counsel, David Nocenti, wrote a memo to all state agency heads that directed them to evaluate their policies and begin rewriting them so they comply with a state appeals court decision that said New York must recognize gay marriages performed in other jurisdictions like Canada and California.
At a news conference on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Paterson repeated the directive and said that although he supports gay marriage and will continue to push for it in the future, this was not an “end run around the Legislature” but merely his interpretation of current laws on the books.
“I’m following the law as it always has existed,” he said.
Asked to respond to critics of the directive, he said, “I would suggest that if they went back and read the law, that they would come to a different interpretation themselves, even if they disagree with the concept of marriage equality.
“If I didn’t take this action,” he added, “I would leave this state open to law suits. I would leave the state treasury open to monetary damages.”
Mr. Bruno said Thursday that he and his staff would look at whether the governor had violated the checks and balances that stand between the executive and the legislative branches. But he stopped short of saying that Mr. Paterson, a Democrat, had overstepped his authority.
“There’s a constitutional question here,” Mr. Bruno added.
Relations between Mr. Bruno and Mr. Paterson have been especially cordial since the governor took over from former Gov. Eliot Spitzer in March. In a striking departure from the atmosphere in Albany when Mr. Spitzer was governor, Mr. Bruno and Mr. Paterson seem to have an unspoken truce.
The revisions are most likely to involve as many as 1,300 statutes and regulations in New York governing everything from joint filing of income tax returns to transferring fishing licenses between spouses.
In a videotaped message given to gay community leaders at a dinner on May 17, Mr. Paterson described the move as “a strong step toward marriage equality.” And people on both sides of the issue said it moved the state closer to fully legalizing same-sex unions in this state.
“Very shortly, there will be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, and probably thousands and thousands and thousands of gay people who have their marriages recognized by the state,” said Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, a Democrat who represents the Upper West Side and has pushed for legalization of gay unions.
Massachusetts and California are the only states that have legalized gay marriage, while others, including New Jersey and Vermont, allow civil unions. Forty-one states have laws limiting marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Legal experts said Mr. Paterson’s decision would make New York the only state that did not itself allow gay marriage but fully recognized same-sex unions entered into elsewhere.
The directive is the strongest signal yet that Mr. Paterson, who developed strong ties to the gay community as a legislator, plans to push aggressively to legalize same-sex unions as governor. His predecessor, Mr. Spitzer, introduced a bill last year that would have legalized gay marriage, but even as he submitted it, doubted that it would pass. The Democratic-dominated Assembly passed the measure, but the Republican-led Senate has refused to call a vote on it.
Short of an act by the Legislature, the directive ordered by Mr. Paterson is the one of the strongest statements a state can make in favor of gay unions.
“Basically we’ve done everything we can do on marriage legislatively at this point,” said Sean Patrick Maloney, a senior adviser to Mr. Paterson. “But there are tools in our tool kit on the executive side, and this is one.”