May 29, 2008
New York to Back Same-Sex Unions From Elsewhere
By JEREMY W. PETERS
ALBANY — Gov. David A. Paterson has directed all state agencies to begin to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, like Massachusetts, California and Canada.
In a directive issued on May 14, the governor's legal counsel, David Nocenti, instructed the agencies that gay couples married elsewhere "should be afforded the same recognition as any other legally performed union."
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, Eliot 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."
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