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79 posts categorized "Family law"

January 08, 2012

The week ahead: January 9, 2012

January 10 - Oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in FCC v Fox (No. 10-1293). The United States is appealing lower court rulings that the FCC's indecency restrictions on broadcast television and the Internet are unconstitutionally vague.  The communications at issue include images of nudity in a NYPD Blue episode and the use of phrases such as “f***ing brilliant,”  “f*** em,” and “f***ing easy” in a live broadcast.  

Also January 10 - Oral argument before the South Dakota Supreme Court in Rumpca v. Brenner, on the continuing validity of a cause of action for alienation of affection under state law. A hangover from common law, alienation of affection is a tort action that allows recovery of damages from an individual who seduced the plaintiff's (usually former) spouse and thus brought about the end of the marriage. South Dakota is one of seven states that still recognizes it as a valid claim.

December 18, 2011

Map of cousin-cousin marriage states

Kudos to Mac McClelland at Mother Jones for this fabulous map of where cousins can legally marry (click on image for sharper focus):

Cousinlovinmap

December 15, 2011

Divorce and CP dissolutions increase in Britain with rockier economy

A total of 42,778 same-sex couples in England have entered civil partnerships; only 1,007 of those have sought dissolutions. Of late, however, there has been an upward trend for termination of both same-sex and different-sex couple relationships. From SoSoGay:

A new report released by the [British] Office of National Statistics this week has shown that divorce figures in 2010 have risen. It is thought that the current economic climate is putting financial pressure on couples, leading to breakdowns in relationships and a rising number of couples getting divorced. The divorce statistics for married couples have been reflected in those of same sex Civil Partnerships; there has also been a rise in the number of dissolutions... 

[Civil partnerships became available for same-sex couples in late 2005.] [F]emale partnerships [are] more likely to end than male ones despite the fact that up until 2010, more men formed civil partnerships than women. Thomas Duggins is Solicitor in the family team at Charles Russell LLP. ‘Up to the end of 2010, 62% of dissolutions have been to female couples, despite the fact that only 44% of formations were to female couples,’ he told So So Gay. ‘The evidence suggests therefore, that female civil partners are more likely to dissolve their partnerships.’ This trend has also been seen in other countries where same sex unions are possible. 

Duggins attributes this variation to the age difference between male and female partnerships. ‘Statistically, male civil partners are on average older than females when they form a civil partnership, and this may explain the difference in dissolution rates. It could be that entering the civil partnership when older means that it is less likely to fail, because the parties have known each other for longer. Certainly, the statistics show that the mean age at dissolution is similar or lower than the mean age at formation, which suggests that younger couples are more likely than older couples to dissolve their partnerships.’ Which may indeed mean that age is a more important factor than gender, in the stability of civil partnerships.

November 21, 2011

IRS signals recognition of DPs as spouses, accepts deduction for sex reassignment surgery

Professor Pat Cain's Same Sex Tax Law Blog reports three recent IRS pronouncements that have gotten little attention and should get more.

Most interesting, a letter from the office of Chief Counsel informs an Illinois taxpayer that different-sex partners in a civil union will be treated as husband and wife for purposes of filing a joint return, because the state law provides that civil union partners should be treated the same under the law as spouses. One logical conclusion is that in a post-DoMA world, same-sex partners in a civil union will also be treated as spouses. This will carry huge benefits for same-sex couples who want to marry but live in states that allow civil unions but not same-sex marriage, or who don't want to marry but who could benefit from that federal tax status. 

Earlier this month, IRS issued an Action on Decision acquiescing in a 2010 Tax Court decision (O'Donnabhain v. Commissioner) ruling that sex reassignment surgery is deductible as a medical expense. Previously, SRS was treated as cosmetic surgery, which is not deductible.

Lastly, in late October, IRS published guidance clarifying that for same-sex spouses or civil union partners, a partner's child is considered a stepchild for federal tax purposes.

Must have been an interesting few months at the IRS... 

November 09, 2011

Social science research on lgbt parenting past, present and future

On Thursday night, the Williams Institute is sponsoring a discussion of lgbt parenting research featuring an international panel of renowned scholars. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 1608 Rhode Island Ave, NW, Washington, DC from 6 to 7 pm. Speakers include:

Nanette Gartrell (photo) and Henny Bos - Gartrell, a psychiatrist affililated with UC-San Francisco, is the lead investigator of 6a00e553bc36a388340133f0b7d896970b-800withe National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study of 78 teenagers with lesbian mothers. The NLLFS is a remarkable and unique longitudinal study in which the families have participated since the children's birth.  Henny Bos, Assistant Professor of Childhood Education and Family Support at the University of Amsterdam, has become a co-investigator on the NLLFS. Together they just published Custody Arrangements and Adolescent Psychological Well-Being, which points to the importance to children of joint custody arrangements when parents separate

Abbie E. Goldberg is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Clark University in Worcester Massachusetts, and Senior Research Fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. She is the author of Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children: Research on The Family Life Cycle and Gay Dads: Transitions to Adoptive Fatherhood, will be published by NYU Press in Spring of 2012.

Susan Golombok is Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge. Her research examines the impact on children of being raised in new family forms, including lesbian mother and gay father families. She is the author of Parenting: What Really Counts? and co-author of Bottling it Up, Gender Development, and Growing up in a Lesbian Family

November 06, 2011

The week ahead: November 7, 2011

Tuesday November 8 - Los Angeles - UCLA Professor Invisible-Families-Book-Cover-330x494 Mignon Moore, a member of the Williams Institute Faculty Advisory Committee, will discuss her new book, Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships and Motherhood Among Black Women, at UCLA Law School Room 1357, 12:15 to 1:30 pm. 

Also November 8 - Election day, though not many races are happening in this off year. One to watch is in Iowa, where a take-over by Repubicans of a state senate seat now held by Dems could flip the chamber from Democratic to Republican control, which could allow a bill to proceed (and probably get signed by the Republican governor) that would put an initiative to amend the state's constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage on the 2012 ballot.

Thursday, November 10 - The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin debate and mark-up on S. 598, the bill that would repeal Section 3 of DoMA and substitute the following language: 

    For the purposes of any Federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual's marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a State.

Also November 10 - Washington, DC - The Williams Institute is hosting a panel discussion of Innovative Research on LGBT Couples and Families from 6 to 7:30 pm at 1608 Rhode Island Ave., NW. 

November 02, 2011

Notes from Brazil: the new appellate decision on marriage and an upsurge in anti-gay violence

From a lawyer friend in Sao Paulo:

The decision of Brazil's highest Federal Appeals Court (Superior Tribunal de Justiça) that same sex couples can legally marry went one step further than the Brazilian Supreme Court. It is certain to be challanged in the Brazilian Supreme Court, where the outcome is uncertain. Three of the Justices who voted for recognizing gay couple "civil unions" are about to retire.
 
The press and the public paid relatively little atention to the latest decision, since in Brazil the debate about the the use of the term "marriage" v. "civil unions" does not exist. However, the legal implications of the recognition of ssm are considerable, since they are legally diferent institutions. I have seen few reactions from the conservative side. (In Argentina, the President, who supported ssm legislation, was re-elected by a landslide).
 
While the US is having some horrible LGBT bullying cases (indeed they are heartbreaking), at least they give the the problem some much needed attention. This issue has not been discussed in Brazil, and I am not able to get an accurate sense of how bad things are in our classrooms.
 
As the patterns of criminal behavior are going global, we are seeing here a strong increase in hate crimes against LGBT people, most commonly physical attacks on male couples showing affection in public places. Violence against LGBT people has always existed in Brazil, but this is clearly a new trend, since it is happening in big cities and it is involving middle class people, which is unprecedented.

October 30, 2011

The week ahead: October 31, 2011

Tuesday, November 1 - New York - The NYC LGBT Bar Association is sponsoring a CLE program on The Impact of Marriage Equality in New York. The event will be held from 6 to 8 pm at the LGBT Community Center. Discussion "will focus on many of the areas potentially impacted by marriage equality in New York, including estate planning, taxation, divorce/dissolution, pre-nups & post-nups, and adoption/second-parent adoption," plus a special session on "Lessons Learned from Massachusetts." 

Wednesday, November 2 - Newark, NJ -  Nathaniel Frank will speak at Seton Hall Law School on "The Aftermath of Don't Ask Don't Tell: A Discussion of the Ongoing Challenges Faced by LGBT Service Members." Frank is the author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America (2009).

Thursday, November 3 - Washington, DC - Lying in State tribute to Frank Kameny will be held at D.C.’s Carnegie Library at 9th and K Streets, N.W., between 3 and 8 p.m.

Also November 3 - Retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker will deliver a lecture at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law on the role of judges in dealing with politically controversial issues. 

October 25, 2011

Two powerful new reports on lgbt families and youth

Two major reports came out today that have the potential to significantly influence policy debates in their respective, related areas.

A trio of organizations published All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families, which spells out in more than 100 pages (with more than 450 footnotes) the ways in which anti-gay policies impede three key needs of every child: stable, loving homes; economic security; and health and well-being. In each area, the report documents the problems, demonstrates the effects of discriminatory laws and policies, and provides recommendations. The Child Welfare League of America wrote the foreword and endorsed the report, which was co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project, Family Equality Council and the Center for American Progress. 

The second publication is from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights:  Peer to Peer Violence and Bullying: Examining the Federal Response. As a threshold matter, its very issuance signals that the Commission is alive again, after having been starved and sidelined by years of Republican administrations. This  report, also lengthy and well-documented, includes specific findings and recommendations:

The Commission, by majority vote, concluded  that  bullying and harassment, including bullying and harassment based on sex, race, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or religion, are  harmful to American youth, and developed findings and recommendations to address the problem, including the following recommendations:

 The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice should track their complaints/inquiries regarding sexual harassment or gender-based harassment by creating a category that explicitly encompasses LGBT youth.

 The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice should track complaints that they receive regarding harassment based solely on sexual orientation that are closed for lack of jurisdiction.

 The U.S. Department of Education should track complaints that it receives regarding harassment based solely on religion that are closed for lack of jurisdiction.

 The U.S. Department of Education should consider issuing a new Dear Colleague Letter regarding the First Amendment implications of anti-bullying policies. The new Letter should provide concrete examples to clarify the guidance that the Department of Education previously provided [on] July 28, 2003.

Two really impressive contributions. 

October 10, 2011

Guidance available on the legal effects of same-sex marriage in New York

Last week, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York held a program on What Passage of the Marriage Equality Law Will Mean for Same-Sex Couples in New York. Speakers covered a broad range of issues affecting the everyday life of New Yorkers: employee health and retirement benefits, estate planning, tax, portability of marital status (to other states), immigration, divorce and property allocation, and parenting issues such as adoption and custody.

Now the materials that were distributed are available on the City Bar's web page. Most track the issues listed above, but there is also an important contribution by Lambda that goes beyond the typical discussions: an extensive booklet on the impact of the new marriage law on low-income lgbt couples and families in New York. Kudos to Lambda!

September 21, 2011

Wrongful death claims from state fair accident will test Indiana law on partner recognition

From the IndyStar:

Legal claims filed by the lesbian partners of two women killed in a stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair last month could lead Indiana to examine how it defines survivors in wrongful death cases despite the state's stance against same-sex unions.

Christina Santiago, 29, Chicago, and Tammy VanDam, 42, Wanatah, Ind., were among seven people who died after a strong gust of wind toppled the stage rigging before an Aug. 13 concert by country band Sugarland. Santiago's partner, Alisha Brennon, and VanDam's partner, Beth Urschel, were injured.

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Urschel, and a wrongful death tort claim -- a precursor to a possible suit -- has been filed with the state of Indiana on behalf of Brennon.

Indiana's wrongful death statute allows next of kin to collect damages. But those are technically people related by DNA, adoption or marriage, said Jennifer A. Drobac, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis.

VanDam and Urschel had registered several years ago in Hawaii as reciprocal beneficiaries, a status that confers some of the legal benefits of marriage -- including survivor benefits -- to unmarried couples. Friends and colleagues said Brennon and Santiago had gone through a civil union in Illinois and planned to marry.

Indiana doesn't recognize those acts. But the courts could choose to define next of kin more broadly to include people who live together, share bank accounts, have children together or are otherwise committed to sharing their lives, Drobac said...

September 08, 2011

Inter-American Court of Human Rights considers appeal in lesbian mother custody case

Sitting in Bogota, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights heard evidence late last month in the appeal filed by Karen Atala, a Chilean judge, challenging government actions that denied her custody rights because she is lesbian. (Background here) Unlike in U.S. courts, the 10-hour appellate argument included new testimony by expert witnesses. Following is the description of the hearing by one of those witnesses, Rob Wintemute of King's College London School of Law:

On the first day, the Court heard the testimony of Karen Atala and 5 expert witnesses.  On the second day, the Court heard closing legal arguments.  Most of the hearing was in Spanish rather than English, except for some judges' questions, and the presentations of two expert witnesses:  Allison Jernow (International Commission of Jurists, Geneva) and myself.  Each expert witness gave an opening statement, and then answered the questions of Ms. Atala's lawyers, the Government of Chile's lawyers, the lawyers of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Washington, DC, USA), and the judges...

Anyone who is interested and has the time can watch the video of my testimony here:

Part 14, http://vimeo.com/28426810 <http://vimeo.com/28426810> (16:00 to 29:40) (witness takes oath at the beginning)
Part 15, http://vimeo.com/28426815
<http://vimeo.com/28426815> (all 2:26)
Part 16, http://vimeo.com/28517198
<http://vimeo.com/28517198> (all 29:51)
Part 17, http://vimeo.com/28552638
<http://vimeo.com/28552638> (0:00 to 23:55)

Alli Jernow's testimony followed mine:

Part 17, http://vimeo.com/28552638 <http://vimeo.com/28552638>  (23:55 to 29:33)
Part 18, http://vimeo.com/28552755 (all 29:39) [more video to come]

Latin America has become a veritable hotbed of lgbt rights activism, and this case has drawn significant attention outside as well as inside the region.  IGLHRC has been following it since its early stages, and a number of organizations filed amicus briefs, as also occurred when the case was before the Human Rights Commission, which ruled in Atala's favor (see para. 12 for list of amici).

August 24, 2011

Will marriage make a difference in will contests?

From Keen News Service:

One obituary described Ellyn Farley as a happy, studious, pet-loving attorney married to her spouse Jennifer Tobits and only “reluctantly” wearing dresses to attend Mass. The other described her as a fierce litigator and champion to the underdog, survived by her parents, her brother, various aunts and uncles, a godmother, and “good friends for life who will be in her heart forever, Jennifer and Nancy, of Chicago; and numerous cousins and other devoted friends.”

The first was published in the Chicago Tribune, the city where Farley lived with her spouse Jennifer Tobits. The latter was published in the Roanoke Times, in Virginia, where Farley grew up. The first was drafted by one of the lesbian couple’s friends and was reviewed and edited by Tobits. The latter was coordinated by Farley’s parents who, according to Tobits, did not consult her about its contents. The first makes clear that Farley was married to a woman; the latter scrubs that reality out of her life story.

Now, Farley’s surviving spouse, Jennifer Tobits, and her parents, Joan and David Farley, are squaring off in two different courts over their different portrayals of Farley. In probate court in Illinois, they are fighting over Farley’s will. In a federal court in Pennsylvania, where Farley’s law firm is headquartered, they are trying to influence a judge’s determination of who should properly receive the benefits of Farley’s profit-sharing plan.

“This is the new era,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. “We are all familiar with hearing stories about parents stepping in and not honoring their children’s relationships and trying to take all the assets. Now that so many couples are in marriages or civil unions or domestic partnerships, it’s still happening; but we have a degree … of legal protections that we didn’t have before.” But in this new era of litigation, Minter said, “there is a lot of confusion” caused by the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA is the federal law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples...Farley’s parents, represented by the right-wing Thomas More Society, a pro-life law firm, say DOMA precludes the courts from awarding any of Farley’s death benefits to Tobits. Minter of NCLR, which is representing Tobits, says DOMA does not apply to private employers, such as Farley’s law firm.

Continue reading "Will marriage make a difference in will contests?" »

July 13, 2011

Chilean government to propose legal recognition for gay and straight unmarried couples

The government of President Sebastian Pinera Sa of Chile will present a bill to the national legislature that would grant legal rights to gay and straight couples who have lived together for more than one year, according to La Tercera and the English-language Santiago Times. The proposed status would be called "Acuerdo de Convivencia No Matrimonial" (ACNM), translated as Non-Marital Cohabitation Agreements.  

President Pinera was elected as the conservative alternative to a more progressive incumbent. In last month's March for Sexual Diversity, demonstrators protested Pinera's failure to keep his promise to back a civil unions bill. He has now announced his intention to submit the legislation, although it was unclear whether his party (UDI) would support it. Similar bills have been introduced in the Chilean Congress since 2009

If the bill passes, Chile (yellow on the map, along with Venezuela, which also has pending legislation) will join Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay (light blue) in having laws similar to civil unions or the French PACS for unmarried partners. Argentina has legalized same-sex marriage (dark blue).

From The Santiago Times:

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera passed his proposal that allows for gay partners who live together for at least a year to apply for civil union to members of his Alianza coalition on Monday.

After increasing demands for the president to address the issue, he released details of the “Acuerdo de Conviviencia No Matrimonial,” or Non-Marriage Living Agreement (ACNM), so that members of both the Renovación Nacional (RN) and the Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI) parties can examine the proposal before Piñera’s team submits a formal proposal to Congress.

The preliminary text of the agreement calls it “a contract that two people, of the same or different sex, can celebrate with the idea of regulating their relationship.” The ACNM states that the couple must sign the agreement before a notary and that the contract must be validated within 15 days before the Civil Registry. One of the main prerequisites is that the couple must have lived together for at least a year.

Members of the UDI have already responded to the president’s proposal, saying that the gay community doesn’t need as much special recognition as one thinks.

“Today, the society is not prepared for this kind of thing,” UDI deputy Cristián Letelier told Radio Bío Bío. “It’s a reality; the sexual minority is largely in the more affluent sectors of society.” In that sense, Letelier said he was open to some benefits such as inheritance rights. “But to sign a document and have some sort of ceremony at the registry office, I think that does not conform to the reality of the facts,” Letelier said.

A couple of weeks ago, the UDI decided to develop its own proposal called the “Pacto de Acuerdo Recíproco” (PAR), which seeks to protect the identity of marriage. However, the president made it clear that the recognition of civil unions pledged during the campaign requires a regulation as defined in the ACNM. As a gesture, he allowed the UDI time to review his proposal before finalizing the initiative.

The proposal also stipulates that the couple won’t be approved if one of the contracting parties is already married or has already signed a pact with another person but has not legally dissolved it. The agreement can be terminated through death, marriage or a mutual agreement signed by both partners.

July 11, 2011

How same-sex marriage, without more options, can set back progressive goals

Once again, the NY Times has discovered an issue that many of us have been wrestling with for years: how to preserve alternatives to marriage for gay and straight couples who want other options.

This problem will be somewhat alleviated in 2014, when the health insurance exchanges mandated by the health reform law will come into effect. Exchanges will guarantee that every individual, regardless of marriage or other relationship, will be able to purchase a health insurance policy at group rates. But those policies are likely to be inferior to what is available through employer-sponsored insurance and will cost more than the incremental "family" premium that applies to most workplace policies. Moreover, the policies offered on exchanges will do nothing to address the range of non-workplace related issues that often come with partner or marital status, such as visitation and inheritance rights.

Now that same-sex marriage has been legalized in New York, at least a few large companies are requiring their employees to tie the knot if they want their partners to qualify for health insurance.

Corning, I.B.M. and Raytheon all provide domestic partner benefits to employees with same-sex partners in states where they cannot marry. But now that they can legally wed in New York, five other states and the District of Columbia, they will be required to do so if they want their partner to be covered for a routine checkup or a root canal.

On the surface, this appears to put the couples on an even footing with heterosexual married couples. After all, this is precisely what they have been fighting for: being treated as a spouse. But some gay and lesbian advocates are arguing that the change may have come too soon: some couples may face complications, since their unions are not recognized by the federal government.

“Even with the complications, many people will want to get married for the reasons people want to get married,” said Ross D. Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. “But from our perspective, to hinge something as important as insurance for your family to what is still a complicated legal matter for same-sex couples doesn’t seem to be a fair thing to do.”

He said that there were a variety of reasons — legal, financial and personal — that companies should keep the domestic partnership option at least until gay marriage was recognized at the federal level. Legally speaking, getting married could create immigration issues or it could potentially muddy the process of adopting a child. In some instances, he added, an employee may work in a gay marriage state but live in a neighboring state that does not recognize the marriage. The couple may want to wait to marry until they can be legally wed in their home state.

“There are certainly reasons why a couple may not wish to marry,” added Camilla Taylor, marriage project director at Lambda Legal. “People with certain immigration statuses might want to think very carefully before getting married. There are some types of visas that are meant to be temporary, and if you get married to someone who is a citizen, it could flag your renewal application and reflect your more permanent decision to stay.”

When it comes to adopting a child, couples may run into trouble if they are trying to adopt from a place that restricts same-sex married couples from adopting. Having one parent adopt while still single may be easier. “If you want to be able to answer honestly in paperwork, multiple interviews and background checks, then you won’t want to get married,” Ms. Taylor said, adding that many foreign countries ban adoptions to same-sex couples.

Marrying could also have serious implications for couples who relocate to a nonmarriage state, and ultimately decide to split up. Getting a divorce can be complicated, since one member of a couple may have to return to the gay marriage state and live there before their split can be completed.

The employers making the changes said they spoke regularly with their gay and lesbian employee groups and planned to phase in the requirement. Corning, based in Corning, N.Y., said it would offer a reasonable grace period, though it had not completed the details.

“After waiting so much time for that right, we want them to have the opportunity to enjoy that,” said Christy Pambianchi, a senior vice president for human resources at Corning, which put the policy into effect in New Hampshire and Massachusetts when gay marriage became legal there. She said employees did not raise concerns about the requirement. “They are delighted,” she said.

Raytheon, based in Waltham, Mass. — another state where gay marriage is legal — said it would give employees several months to comply with its marriage requirement. Like Corning and I.B.M., the company said domestic partner benefits would remain in states where couples cannot marry (Raytheon also has an exemption for active members of the military, so they are covered for benefits without having to marry. Getting married violates the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which is being phased out).

I.B.M., based in Armonk, N.Y., said its workers would have up to a year to get married to maintain their current benefits.

At least for now, these companies seem to be in the minority, though it is unclear whether more employers will follow their lead. Eastman Kodak, based in Rochester, said it would continue to offer domestic partner coverage to both same-sex and opposite-sex partners.

“My impression is that there has been lots of discussion about dropping domestic partner coverage when marriage is first opened up to same-sex couples, but very few employers actually end up taking this step,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, legal director at the Williams Institute, which studies sexual orientation law and policy issues. “Some employers initially believe that it is fairer of them to impose the same marriage requirements on all employees, regardless of sexual orientation. But then employees and others explain that employees with a same-sex life partner remain in difficult circumstances due to the continuing federal discrimination.”

Whether same-sex couples marry, they will still be responsible for paying federal income taxes on the value of their partner or spouse’s benefits since they are not recognized by the federal government as an economic unit, unless the person covered is considered a dependent. Couples will not owe those taxes at the state level in places like New York that recognize gay marriage.

But it should become easier for gay employees who marry and live in New York to obtain insurance for their spouses. (There are an estimated 42,000 same-sex couples in New York, according to the Williams Institute.) Not only are the same-sex spouses of state workers eligible for spousal coverage, but the same goes for many people who work for private employers.

There could be some exceptions, however. Employers who do not contract with an insurance company but instead pay for health benefits out of their own assets — so-called self-insured plans — are not subject to the state’s insurance laws but are governed by federal law.

Most large employers have self-insured plans, said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, a membership organization that focuses on health policies for large employers. That means they can choose to cover same-sex employees, but they do not have to. While virtually all large company plans cover legal spouses, she added, some companies offer domestic partner benefits only to gay employees who do not have the option to marry. (Some companies also extend the benefits to heterosexual unmarried couples.)

“I am getting a lot of questions about what other employers are doing,” Ms. Darling said. “I see a movement coming where marriage will be a factor where marriage is possible.”