NYCLU Files Same-Sex Benefits Lawsuit on Behalf of Rochester Woman

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
January 13, 2005 12:00 am

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ROCHESTER, NY — The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court on behalf of a Rochester woman seeking health care benefits for her female partner whom she married in Canada.

“Gay and lesbian couples make the same long-term commitments to each other as heterosexual couples,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “This case highlights the fact that same-sex couples are entitled to the same protection under state law.”

The NYCLU filed its lawsuit on behalf of Patricia Martinez against her employer, Monroe Community College, as well as Monroe County. According to the lawsuit, the college and the county are violating the state constitutional rights of Martinez and her spouse because they are a lesbian couple.

Martinez has been a word processing supervisor for the community college in Rochester since 1994. She has been in a committed relationship with her partner, Lisa Ann Golden, since 2000. Martinez and Golden solemnized their relationship in a civil union in Burlington, Vermont in July 2001 and were legally married in Niagara Falls, Ontario in July 2004. The women own a home together, share financial responsibility for their expenses and each other’s needs, and have drawn up mutual wills.

“Last year, Attorney General Spitzer reiterated that New York State recognizes out-of-state and Canadian marriages, even if the same marriages cannot be performed in New York State,” said Barbara de Leeuw, Executive Director of the Genesee Valley Chapter of the NYCLU. “The Martinez case is discrimination pure and simple.”

In March 2004, Martinez wrote a letter to the college’s human resources director, Sherry Ralston, who is also a defendant in this suit, requesting spousal health benefits for Golden as provided for by the Monroe Community College employment contract. Martinez also provided Ralston with documentation of her civil union and marriage in Canada, but her request for benefits was denied. After repeated appeals and denials, Martinez requested legal assistance from the NYCLU.

Martinez is seeking an order requiring governmental employers like the community college to adopt fair and equitable health care policies that will allow same-sex couples to assume the rights and responsibilities extended to all New Yorkers in solemnized relationships.

“The lawsuit states that it is unlawful for county officials not to extend the same benefits to a legally married couple simply because they are gay,” said Jeffrey Wicks, a cooperating attorney with the NYCLU. “What we are seeking is full application of the law to Martinez and Lisa Golden, as well as other gay and lesbian couples.”

The complaint is online at: /node/35054.

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