New York Bar Associations Make Legal Case for Same-Sex Marriage

At a press conference organized by the New York State Bar Association and the New York City Bar Association, leaders of New York bar associations today urged the state Legislature to bring an end to legal discrimination against same-sex couples who wish to marry in New York. In calling for a marriage equality law, the bar associations said existing laws discriminate against same-sex couples in a wide range of areas, including health care, housing, child raising, inheritance, wrongful death actions and property rights should a couple split up.

“Without the right to marry, same-sex couples find it difficult—or literally impossible—to navigate legal issues that arise in everyday life,” said New York State Bar Association President Stephen P. Younger. “The right to obtain a civil marriage license cannot be denied to a particular group on the grounds that it historically has been denied that right,” said Samuel W. Seymour, President of the New York City Bar Association. “If that were the case, interracial couples would still face barriers to marriage.” In addition to the State and City Bar Associations, other legal organizations supporting same-sex marriage legislation include: American Bar Association Albany County Bar Association American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers/NY Chapter Asian American Bar Association of New York Bronx County Bar Association Dominican Bar Association Hispanic National Bar Association LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York (LeGaL) Metropolitan Black Bar Association Monroe County Bar Association Muslim Bar Association of New York New York County Lawyers’ Association New York Criminal Bar Association New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Onondaga County Bar Association Puerto Rican Bar Association Rockland County Bar Association Society of New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association South Asian Bar Association of New York Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York At the press conference at the City Bar’s headquarters, bar leaders explained that without passage of a marriage equality law, unmarried same-sex couples in New York will continue to face the following inequities, among hundreds of others:

  • They may be unable to obtain employer-sponsored health insurance that would cover their entire family, and even where they are able to do so, they will be burdened with additional taxes on such coverage.
  • If the couple’s relationship breaks down, there is no legal right to equitable property distribution, maintenance, custody or visitation.
  • Despite raising a child as a partnership and family unit, there is no legal presumption that the child is the child of both parents. If the couple breaks up, the biological parent can completely cut off the child from the non-biological parent; and the non-biological parent has no duty to support the child.
  • They do not enjoy statutory inheritance rights. After the death of one partner, surviving partners must fend for themselves in situations where married couples are afforded legal protection. Even couples who draft a will remain uncertain as to whether their express wishes will suffice to fend off litigation.
  • They cannot bring a claim for wrongful death.
  • They cannot seek workers compensation benefits.
  • They do not enjoy a spousal privilege in legal proceedings.
  • They do not enjoy spousal protections in bankruptcy proceedings.

The bar associations noted that enacting the pending marriage equality legislation would not require clergy to perform same-sex marriages. The bar associations added that civil unions or domestic partnerships are not an acceptable substitute for marriage, because they are poorly understood and erratically recognized; confer an inferior status on same-sex couples; will present ongoing legislative challenges as the laws pertaining to marriage are routinely amended; and will allow for limited or no portability of rights in other states or federal recognition should the Defense of Marriage Act be repealed or overturned. Moreover, civil unions would be a backward step in a state that already recognizes the validity of same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. The bar associations urge the legislature to pass a bill providing full marriage equality for all couples in the State of New York and end the second-class citizenship to which an entire class of New York couples and their families have been relegated. For further background on the issue: Why Should New York Support Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples? New York City Bar Association, May 2011. Report and Recommendation on Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Couples,  New York State Bar Association, June 2009.