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New York appeals court allows surviving same-sex spouse to inherit estate

The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department [official website] on Thursday upheld [opinion, PDF] a lower court decision [JURIST report] allowing the surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage to inherit the deceased spouse's estate. Kenneth Ranftle and Craig Leiby were married legally in Canada in 2008 after more than 20 years together. Ranftle died a few months later in New York, leaving most of his multi-million dollar estate to Leiby. Ranftle's brother challenged the validity of the couple's marriage and argued that recognition of the marriage violated New York public policy. The unanimous panel said in its opinion:

[T]he Legislature's failure to authorize same-sex couples to enter into marriage in New York or require recognition of validly performed out-of-state same-sex marriages, cannot serve as an expression of public policy for the State. In the absence of an express statutory prohibition ... legislative action or inaction does not qualify as an exception to the marriage recognition rule.
In 2008, then-governor David Paterson ordered all state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages from other states [JURIST report] as legal marriages for purposes of New York law. The order followed a decision by an intermediate New York appellate court holding that legal same-sex marriages performed outside the state are entitled to recognition [JURIST report] in New York.

The validity of same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] continues to be hotly debated in the US. The New York appeals court decision came one day after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced that it would no longer defend the constitutionality [JURIST report] of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive], which defines marriage for federal purposes as a legal union between one man and one woman, in court cases challenging the provision. The New York State Assembly approved same-sex marriage legislation in 2009, but the bill was later defeated [JURIST reports] in the Senate. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, DC [JURIST reports].

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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