Same-Sex Marriages

Currently, five states permit same-sex marriage (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire), plus the District of Columbia. Three more states officially pledge to honor out-of-state same-sex marriages (Maryland, Rhode Island and New York). Seven foreign countries also grant full marriage rights to gays and lesbian couples: The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, and Sweden.

Although New York does not permit same-sex marriage (and the New York Senate recently turned down a bill permitting same-sex marriage), it does recognize same-sex marriages performed outside of its jurisdiction, based on the principles of full faith and credit and comity. Governor Paterson issued a broad executive order in 2008, directing state agencies to review their policies to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.

If you entered into a same-sex marriage outside of the state of New York, and both partners have lived in New York for a period of a year, or one of you lived in New York for a period of two years, New York will have jurisdiction to dissolve your marriage, and will apply New York law to the issues of grounds for dissolution, equitable distribution, support and custody.

At the time civil unions first became available, legal organizations cautioned that there was doubt that a civil union could be dissolved unless one of the partners was a resident of at least one year's duration in the civil union jurisdiction. Recently, an appellate court held that New York will dissolve a "civil union" entered into outside of the state. The court will look to Vermont law to determine whether the civil union should be dissolved. The question of what body of law a court should use to decide custody or property division issues is still left open. In light of a recent Court of Appeals ruling, it appears that New York law should apply, but it is not certain until a court actually rules on the merits of a child custody dispute or a property division matter involving a Vermont civil union couple who are dissolving their civil union.