In a letter to Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), dated April 6, Anthony Crowell, special counsel to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, confirmed that New York City policy is to recognize any gay marriage or civil union legally entered into elsewhere as a marriage for purposes of city law.

The announcement strengthens a law passed in 2002 which confers all rights under the city’s domestic partner law on such unions.

According to Crowell, the statement is both an affirmation of Bloomberg’s policy position and a reflection of the city corporation counsel’s interpretation of state and city law. Van Capelle had sought a statement from Bloomberg’s office in the wake of an announcement by his administration last November that the city would recognize spouses of out-of-state gay marriages for purposes of the city’s employee pension benefits. That announcement followed a similar policy pronouncement from state Comptroller Alan Hevesi regarding New York State pension benefits.

Both the city and the Hevesi pension rulings were based, in part, on an advisory opinion issued last March by state Attorney Gen. Eliot Spitzer that binding state precedent requires New York State to recognize any marriage legally entered into in jurisdictions outside New York.

“No locality has to say this to make it the law of the state,” said Ross Levi, ESPA’s legislative counsel. “But it saves us from having to fight. It is incredibility helpful to have an elected official, especially the executive, say so.”

Since gay marriage was legalized in Canada and Massachusetts beginning in 2003, ESPA has campaigned to have local governments across New York State that out-of-jurisdiction marriages are recognized under municipal law.

Susan Sommer, the lead attorney from Lambda Legal in the successful gay marriage case in Manhattan currently under appeal by the Bloomberg administration, said the city policy will strengthen her defense of the lower court victory at the appellate level.

“I would point to this as another sign that there is no rational or reasonable excuse to ban gay marriage,” she said. “How can a court deny that right when there are other gay people legally married in the state who had to leave their home country in order to get these protections.”

—Paul Schindler