Benefits, Employment Law, HR Management

N.Y. Legalizes Same-sex Marriage

New York State will become the sixth state where same-sex marriage is legal on July 24. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on June 24 signed the Marriage Equality Act (MEA) into law. Same-sex marriage already is legal in Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and the District of Columbia. The measure goes into effect one month after enactment, writes John Iekel, Senior Managing Editor with Thompson Publishing Group’s pension and benefits group.


The MEA amends New York’s Domestic Relations Law to state that:

  • a marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex;
  • no government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being the same sex or a different sex;
  • all relevant gender-specific language set forth in or referenced by New York law shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner; and
  • no application for a marriage license shall be denied on the ground that the parties are of the same or a different sex.

Provisions Addressing Religious Entities

Deliberations on the MEA in the New York Senate included discussion of provisions recognizing and protecting the right of religious organizations to not perform same-sex marriages. Inclusion of those provisions was key in securing Senate passage of the measure.

The MEA makes a distinction between civil marriage and that performed by religious entities. It says that religious organizations and institutions, as well as their employees, will not have to perform same-sex marriages in violation of their precepts and doctrine and will not be required to provide their facilities to perform same-sex marriages. It also provides that religious entities will not be subject to legal action for refusing to perform same-sex marriages.

Expanded Spousal Benefits for State Employees

A memorandum from the New York Assembly notes that the MEA will require additional state expenditures for spousal benefits for same-sex partners of state employees who marry them and then become eligible for those benefits.

The Assembly adds, however, the effect of this expansion of benefits may be mitigated by the fact that the state already provides spousal benefits for same-sex partners of state employees who legally married them in a different state or if the couple is recognized by the State of New York as domestic partners.


The MEA contains a nonseverability clause, which could be a risk to the measure if supporters of the traditional definition of marriage challenge the MEA in the courts. Since the MEA contains a nonseverability clause, if a court rules that any part of the MEA is invalid, the entire MEA will be considered invalid.