Legal group fights for gay benefits in New York

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Lambda Legal and co-counsel Kramer Levin Naftalis Frankel LLP presented oral arguments before the Supreme Court of New York in Nassau County in a lawsuit today on behalf of a retired Nassau County teacher who was denied spousal benefits for his same-sex spouse.

“Duke Funderburke helped to educate a generation of New Yorkers over the course of his 25 years as a teacher,” said Alphonso David, Lambda Legal staff attorney and lead attorney on the case.

“Not only are the state and school district wrong to deny Mr Funderburke’s legally married spouse the benefits spouses of all retired New York teachers enjoy, but they’re attempting to ignore well-settled law in New York that honours marriages validly performed in foreign jurisdictions.”

Lambda Legal represents Duke Funderburke, 73, who worked as a teacher at the Uniondale Union Free School District in Nassau County for 25 years before retiring in 1986. He married his partner of 42 years, Brad Davis, 68, in October 2004 in a ceremony in Ontario, Canada, where marriages are legal for same-sex couples.

When Mr Funderburke requested that his retirement health benefits be extended to his spouse, just as benefits are extended to other married retirees, the school district refused. Lambda Legal subsequently filed a lawsuit against the school district and the New York State Department of Civil Service, which administers health insurance plans for the school district.

Lambda Legal argued in court today that state and local government agencies, municipalities, and private businesses across the state are respecting out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issued an opinion confirming “parties to such unions must be treated as spouses for purposes of New York law.”

Similarly New York State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi issued an opinion that the New York State Retirement System will respect out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples for purposes of pension benefits. Moreover, a number of New York municipalities, including New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Nyack, Rochester and Brighton have also affirmed that their governments respect these marriages.

The outcome of this case has the potential to compel the New York State Department of Civil Service to provide benefits for married spouses of all gay and lesbian state employees and retirees covered by the Empire Plan, not just those of the Uniondale Union Free School District.

This case does not call on the court to determine whether New York itself must permit same-sex couples to marry in the State. That issue will be determined by Lambda Legal’s case, Hernandez v. Robles, to be argued May 31, 2006 before the New York Court of Appeals-New York’s highest court.

© 2006; All Rights Reserved.