Lawsuit Filed Against N.Y. Agency Over 'Spouse' Redefinition

NEW YORK – The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a New York state agency over a redefinition of the state's "spouse" clause.

The Christian law firm filed the suit on behalf of N.Y. taxpayers after the New York State Department of Civil Service (DCS) redefined the term "spouse" to include same-sex couples "married" outside the state, which ADF says is illegal. The redefinition would allow these couples to receive from the state the same benefits as couples whose marriages are recognized.

"Marriage is not simply a state benefits system, and its redefinition would be extremely damaging to our families and children," explained Brian W. Raum, senior counsel for ADF, in a statement. "Because marriage is defined as the legal union of one man and one woman, the New York State Department of Civil Service has no legal authority to recognize out-of-state same-sex 'marriages.'"

On May 1, the New York DCS announced that they would recognize gay "spouses" as long as they were legally married outside the state – whether that may be in the United States or another country – and the headquarters advised local agencies across the state to grant them health benefits.

ADF was able to file the lawsuit since the ruling would expend tax money to pay for the benefits. New York State law states that any illegal activity which uses up state funds can be challenged by tax payers.

"Neither the New York State Department of Civil Service, nor any other state agency, has the right to circumvent the law in order to further their own partisan political purposes," added Raum. "But that is exactly why the DCS Commissioner implemented this new policy."

Attorneys for ADF hope to use the case Funderburke v. Dept. of Civil Service as precedent for the lawsuit. The ruling, which was in July 2006, found that same-sex couples that were "married" in Canada would not be granted "spouse" status back in New York and thus would not receive benefits under Civil Service Law.

On May 16, New York upheld the out-of-state "marriages" of 170 homosexual couples living within the state.

The New York courts, which had ruled on July 6, 2006 that unions were solely between a man and a woman, had found a loophole. Since Massachusetts courts had already legalized gay marriage in 2004, any couple that was legally married before July 2006 would still be considered "married" since New York had not banned it yet.

Previously, same-sex partners would only be considered "married" if they stayed within Massachusetts after their wedding or held residence in a state that recognized same-sex unions.