On November 21, the New York Insurance Department (the “NYID”) issued Circular Letter No. 27 (the “Circular Letter”), “Recognition in New York of Marriages Between Same-Sex Partners Legally Performed in Other Jurisdictions.” The Circular Letter requires insurers to treat all couples in New York, including same-sex couples who were legally married outside of New York, equally.

The NYID’s position follows a decision in February 2008, Martinez v. Monroe Community College, in which a New York state appellate court held that plaintiff Patricia Martinez’s valid, out-of-state marriage to her same-sex partner was entitled to recognition in New York State as a matter of comity. The New York Court of Appeals dismissed Monroe's application for leave to appeal in May of this year.

Following the Martinez decision, the NYID was asked by consumers and insurers alike as to how insurance companies should treat same-sex couples legally married outside of New York. The Circular Letter requires insurers to provide all legally married couples with the same rights and benefits, regardless of the sex of the spouses. Further, the Circular Letter states that “an insurer’s refusal to extend health insurance or other coverage on an equal basis to same-sex and opposite-sex spouses may constitute an unfair act or practice under [New York] Insurance Law §§ 2402 and 2403, and/or unfair discrimination under [New York] Insurance Law Article 23 and § 4224.” The Circular Letter goes on to state that “an employer’s failure to treat same-sex and opposite-sex spouses equally for purposes of health insurance coverage or otherwise may violate New York Executive Law § 296(1)(a), which also targets unlawful discrimination.”

In announcing the NYID’s position, Superintendent of Insurance Eric Dinallo stated, “[i]nsurance is an essential part of our planning for daily life” and “[w]e expect insurance companies to provide the same rights and benefits to all legally married couples, regardless of the sex of the spouses.” Dinallo went on to say, “[a]s Governor David Paterson has explained, this is consistent with the position the State has historically taken with respect to marriages conducted in jurisdictions outside of the State of New York.”

Click here to read the Circular Letter.