This is an update on the case about the Marriage Equality Act (MEA) of New York that is being handled by Michael B. Schulman & Associates P.C. The Marriage Equality Act (MEA) of New York took effect on July 24, 2011, for the purposes of recognizing otherwise “valid” marriages in the State of New York.
The most recent update available in this matter is that we made a motion on behalf of the defendant, or appellant for these purposes, to stay all proceedings in this action pending the hearing and determination of the appeal. The purpose of the hearing was to appeal the Decision and Order made on March 21, 2021, which denied the Appellant’s Motion for permission to file and serve an Amended Answer.
The New York Supreme Court denied the Motion.
A recap of the facts of the case
The Defendant and the Respondent, a same-sex couple, partook in a religious marriage ceremony back in 2005.
The ceremony was in accordance with the requisites of the Jewish faith. It was performed by an ordained Rabbi and pursuant to Jewish custom and tradition which included the signing of a Jewish marriage contract.
The purpose of these proceedings is to seek to determine whether the parties entered into a “valid” same-sex marriage. It is the assertion of the defendant that they did.
The purpose of the Marriage Equality Act (“MEA”)
The purpose of the MEA 2011 was to make sure same sex-couples were in a position where they were given formal recognition of their marriages for all purposes in the State of New York.
We assert that the defendant’s marriage was valid, yet unrecognized by the State of New York.
It did not afford them, therefore, the legal rights and benefits that at the time were afforded only to heterosexual couples and same-sex marriages in states where they were recognized.
For example, if the defendant’s marriage had taken place in Vermont rather than New York, the marriage would be recognized and there would be no legal argument to be made.
Questions for the court to determine
The purpose of the appeal was to ask the court to determine whether the Lower Court had erred in its decision on a number of points.
- Denying the defendant’s motion to amend her answer
- That the MEA did not provide any retroactive validation of same-sex marriages
- That the amendment would be prejudicial
Denying the defendant’s motion to amend their answer
The defendant wished to amend her answer to include an alleged date of marriage during a period when New York State Law held that only heterosexual marriages were “valid” marriages.
Our submission was that the Lower Court should have permitted the Appellant to amend her answer and assert 2005 as the date of the marriage as opposed to 2011.
The court found in favor of the plaintiff in that the lower court had properly determined that the law of the State of New York, prior to the enactment of the Marriage Equality Act, held that same-sex marriages conducted in New York were not valid and therefore the application to amend was without merit.
The MEA did not provide any retroactive validation of same-sex marriages
The plaintiff submits that, prior to the enactment of the MEA, the governing case law was that of Hernandez v Robles Which found that only marriages between heterosexuals were “valid”. As The MEA did not come into place until 2011, that would therefore mean a marriage held in 2005 was not considered “valid”.
It is our assertion that although the word “retrospective” does not appear in the statute, it was intended that this should be the case when MEA was drafted. The purpose of the legislation was to remedy the disparity in the treatment of marriages and eliminate distinctions between same-sex and heterosexual couples by the State of New York.
The Jewish ceremony has always been considered legal and valid in New York; it was simply not recognized by the State of New York for all intended purposes until the Marriage Equality Act in 2011.
The Lower Court determined that the MEA did not confer validity to a marriage via a religious ceremony conducted in New York prior to its enactment. We argue that this sentence clearly and unequivocally shows that that the Lower Court had a fundamental misunderstanding of the scope and purpose of the MEA.
A religious ceremony alone is a valid marriage in the State of New York and the language of the MEA was purposely written to “recognize otherwise valid marriages” not confer validity.
The New York Supreme Court determined that the Lower Court had properly determined that the MEA did not intend to validate same-sex marriage that occurred before it came into effect.
The amendment was prejudicial
The court was asked to find that the lower court erred in finding that the amendment would be prejudicial because of a 19-month delay between the original answer and the request to amend.
Our submission was that the Lower Court incorrectly applied the standard of what constitutes prejudice and that the passage of time alone is not enough; especially in the midst of Covid delays. The fact that the respondent was fully aware of all the facts in this case means there is little chance of prejudice caused by the amendment.
The court determined that the lower court had properly determined within the facts of the case that such an amendment would be prejudicial in that the motion was patently devoid of merit.
The New York Supreme Court found that the Lower Court was correct in its application of the law and, as a result, ordered that the motion be denied.
The current status of proceedings
On September 17, 2021, we asked the New York Supreme Court to find the Decision and Order of the Lower Court denying the Appellant’s motion to file and serve her proposed amended answer to be reversed in all respects.
We submit this on the basis that the relationship asserted by the respondent between the decision in Hernandez and the 2005 religious ceremony is not there. The issue, we believe, at hand is the merit to the use of the argument of the Marriage Equality Act’s retroactivity. It is not that the marriage became “otherwise valid” as a result of the passage of the MEA, but that it was always “otherwise valid”. The MEA simply recognized this to be the case.
As the purpose of the MEA was to rectify inequality between same-sex and different-sex couples, it must be considered to be retrospective.
On this basis, we ask the New York Supreme Court to allow the defendant to serve an amended answer. We will continue to update you as the case progresses.