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Monday, June 27, 2011

New York's Marriage Equality Act

The Marriage Equality Act

On June 24, 2011 New York enacted “The Marriage Equality Act’, which amended the domestic relations law to grant same-sex couples the ability to enter into civil marriages in New York. New York, has joined Vermont and New Hampshire in becoming the third state to pass legislation permitting same-sex marriage. The only othr U.S. jurisdictions that permit same-sex marriage are the District of Columbia, which also passed a same-sex marriage law, and Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa which permit same-sex marriage as a consequence of court rulings.

Although the New York Domestic Relations Law contains no specific prohibition against marriages between individuals of the same sex, the Court of Appeals has held that the law limits marriage within New York State to different-sex couples. At the same time, in recognition of common law principles, New York courts have also held that marriages between individuals of the same sex legally performed in other jurisdictions are "entitled to recognition in New York in the absence of express legislation to the contrary."

The Marriage Equality Act provides that an otherwise valid marriage shall be valid regardless of whether the parties are of the same sex or different sex. To ensure that the law does not improperly intrude into matters of conscience or religious belief, the Act affirms that no member of the clergy can be compelled to solemnize any marriage. The law also ensures that the statutory protections for religious organizations found in the New York Human Rights law remains intact, including, guaranteeing that religious institutions remain free to choose who may use their facilities and halls for marriage ceremonies and celebrations, to whom they rent their housing accommodations, or to whom they provide religious services, consistent with their religious principles. The Act contains language to ensure that benevolent organizations remain exempt from New York prohibitions against discrimination in public accommodations, and are not be required to rent social halls to weddings of same-sex or other couples it chooses not to accommodate.

The Domestic Relations Law was amended by adding two new sections Domestic Relations Law §§10-a and 10-b to read as follows:


§ 10-a. Parties to a marriage.

1. A marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex.

2. No government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage, whether deriving from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, common law or any other source of law, shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being or having been of the same sex rather than a different sex. When necessary to implement the rights and responsibilities of spouses under the law, all gender-specific language or terms shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner in all such sources of law. (Laws of 2011, Ch 95, § 3, effective July 24, 2011)


§ 10-b. Religious exception.

1. Notwithstanding any state, local or municipal law, rule, regulation, ordinance, or other provision of law to the contrary, a religious entity as defined under the education law or section two of the religious corporations law, or a corporation incorporated under the benevolent orders law or described in the benevolent orders law but formed under any other law of this state, or a not-for- profit corporation operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious corporation, or any employee thereof, being managed, directed, or super vised by or in conjunction with a religious corporation, benevolent order, or a not-for-profit corporation as described in this subdivision,
shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. Any such refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits, or discriminate against such religious corporation, benevolent order, a not-for-profit corporation operated,
supervised, or controlled by a religious corporation, or any employee thereof being managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious corporation, benevolent order, or a not-for-profit corporation.

2. Notwithstanding any state, local or municipal law or rule, regulation, ordinance, or other provision of law to the contrary, nothing in this article shall limit or diminish the right, pursuant to subdivision eleven of section two hundred ninety-six of the executive law, of any religious or denominational institution or organization, or any organ-
ization operated for charitable or educational purposes, which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, to limit employment or sales or rental of housing accommodations or admission to or give preference to persons of the same religion or denomination or from taking such action as is calculated by such organization to promote the religious principles for which it is estab-
lished or maintained.

3. Nothing in this section shall be deemed or construed to limit the protections and exemptions otherwise provided to religious organizations under section three of article one of the constitution of the state of New York. ( Laws of 2011, Ch 96, § 1, effective July 24, 2011)


Domestic Relations Law § 13 was amended to add the last sentence which provides that “No application for a marriage license shall be denied on the ground that the parties are of the same, or a different, sex. Domestic Relations Law §13 provides as follows:

§ 13. Marriage licenses. It shall be necessary for all persons intended to be married in New York state to obtain a marriage license from a town or city clerk in New York state and to deliver said license, within sixty days, to the clergyman or magistrate who is to officiate before the marriage ceremony may be performed. In case of a marriage contracted pursuant to subdivision four of section eleven of this chapter, such license shall be delivered to the judge of the court of record before whom the acknowledgment is to be taken. If either party to the marriage resides upon an island located not less than twenty-five miles from the office or residence of the town clerk of the town of which such island is a part, and if such office or residence is not on such island such license may be obtained from any justice of the peace residing on such island, and such justice, in respect to powers and duties relating to marriage licenses, shall be subject to the provisions of this article governing town clerks and shall file all statements or affidavits received by him while acting under the provisions of this section with the town clerk of such town. No application for a marriage license shall be denied on the ground that the parties are of the same, or a different, sex. (Laws of 2011, Ch 95, § 4, effective July 24, 2011)


Domestic Relations Law §11 was amended to make clear that no member of the clergy acting in such capacity may be required to perform any marriage. Domestic Relations Law §11, subdivision 1 was amended, to add the provision that “no clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law, or Society for Ethical Culture leader shall be required to solemnize any marriage when acting in his or her capacity under this subdivision, and subdivision 1-a was added. (Laws of 2011, Ch 95, § 5, as amended by Laws of 2011, Ch 96, §2, effective July 24, 2011)


Domestic Relations Law §11 provides:

11 1. A clergyman or minister of any religion, or by the senior leader, or any of the other leaders, of The Society for Ethical Culture in the city of New York, having its principal office in the borough of Manhattan, or by the leader of The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, having its principal office in the borough of Brooklyn of the city of
New York, or of the Westchester Ethical Society, having its principal office in Westchester county, or of the Ethical Culture Society of Long Island, having its principal office in Nassau county, or of the Riverdale-Yonkers Ethical Society having its principal office in Bronx county, or by the leader of any other Ethical Culture Society affiliated with the American Ethical Union; provided that no clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law, or Society for Ethical Culture leader shall be required to solemnize any marriage
when acting in his or her capacity under this subdivision. (Laws of 2011, Ch 95, § 5, as amended by Laws of 2011, Ch 96, §2, effective July 24, 2011)

1-a. A refusal by a clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law, or Society for Ethical Culture leader to solemnize any marriage under this subdivision shall not create a civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits or discriminate against such clergyman or minister. (Laws of 2011, Ch 95, § 5, as amended by Laws of 2011, Ch 96, §2, effective July 24, 2011)


The legislation provides that it is “...to be construed as a whole, and all parts of it are to be read and construed together. If any part of this act shall be adjudged by any court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid, the remainder of this act shall be invalidated. Nothing herein shall be construed to affect the parties' right to appeal the matter. “(Laws of 2011, Ch 96, § 3 which added § 5-a to Laws of 2011, Ch 95)