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Media Advisory
June 12, 2007
Contact:
Jayne Bigelsen-NYC Bar Association
(212) 382-6655 / (917) 902-7584 (cell)
Joe Tarver -Empire State Pride
(212) 627-0305 / (917) 604-7509 (cell)

New York Grants 1,324 Rights to Married Couples—Most of Which are Denied to Same Sex Couples, Finds a New Report by the New York City Bar Association and the Empire State Pride Agenda

( New York , June 12, 2007 ) From the mundane to the life-altering, there are 1,324 New York State laws that benefit spouses only and are therefore denied to same sex-couples, concludes a new report released today by the New York City Bar Association and Empire State Pride Agenda. “We scoured state statutes so that we could learn the extent to which same-sex couples in New York are deprived of the basic rights and regulations that opposite-sex couples assume automatically and unknowingly when they say ‘I do’,” says Allen Drexel , Co-Chair of the New York City Bar Association’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Committee.

Some examples of the basic rights granted only to married couples are laws which:

  • Ensure that a spouse may not be disinherited and that he or she may take a share of a deceased spouse’s estate against the decedent’s will;
  • Ensure that a child born to a married couple is legally presumed the natural child of the husband and wife for all purposes, including custody, visitation, and child support, even if the child was conceived through artificial insemination by a third party or born prior to the parents’ marriage;
  • Award priority in public housing assignments and numerous other benefits to the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran;
  • Enable spouses of military servicemembers to attend New York community colleges at the same cost as New York residents; and
  • Require a spouse to continue supporting his or her ex-spouse even after divorce if the other spouse would otherwise be incapable of self-support and therefore likely to become a public charge.

“Civil marriage is embedded so deeply in our society, and its legal status so universally recognized, that the extent of its benefits is often taken for granted by opposite-sex couples. Married couples and their children can predict with relative confidence how they will be treated in each of the situations outlined in this report,” says Ross Levi, Director of Public Policy & Education for the Empire State Pride Agenda. “The same cannot be said for same-sex couples and their children.”

The number of New York families that are denied these rights and protections is not small. According to the 2000 census, there are over 46,490 same-sex households in New York State , with one in four of these couples raising children, and that reported number is widely believed to represent only a fraction of the actual number.

The report explains that while many parents try their best to protect their children and plan for future circumstance through wills, health care proxies, and other legal documents, same-sex couples still lack the certainty that flows from marriage. Because the overwhelming majority of these rights and responsibilities have been created by statute, same-sex families are by definition effectively denied them. “Take Workers’ Compensation survivor benefits for example. No amount of pre-planning or private legal arrangements can change the fact that these benefits are limited to spouses, as are the vast majority of the legal incidents of marriage,” says Drexel.

New York ’s protections for same-sex couples have until now developed on a case-by-case, law-by-law, and sometime even family-by-family basis, the report notes. This leaves same- sex couples in a legal limbo of conflicting laws and policies, often just at the time when they are least equipped to deal with it, such as when death or illness strikes. Absent the literally hundreds of forms of support that government provides to married couples to care for each other – and the duty it imposes on them to do so – these families are much more vulnerable and therefore more likely to require state-funded social services and financial assistance.

The report emphasizes that civil union laws, while a step in the right direction, are not optimal solutions to the systematic inequality faced by same-sex couples and the children they raise together. Civil unions would not confer any of the federal rights and responsibilities that come with marriage, and it is questionable to what extent civil unions and similar types of legal arrangements will be recognized outside of the jurisdictions that grant them. Levi adds, “Providing for anything short of marriage sends a message that same-sex households have second-class status and are denied the legal rights and obligations extended to all other loving couples willing to commit to a life together.”

“Anyone who thinks civil marriage is largely about symbolism and tradition need only take one look at this report,” says Drexel. “They will find there are over one thousand concrete and compelling reasons why marriage equality should be the law of New York State .”

A full copy of the report can be found at http://www.nycbar.org/pdf/report/marriage_v7d21.pdf

About the Association
The New York City Bar Association (www.nycbar.org) was founded in 1870, and since then has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.

 

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