Image via WikipediaAs reported in The Legal Satyricon blog, the U.S. District Court for the District of N.J. has ruled that falsely calling someone a homosexual does not rise to the level of defamation.
U. S. District Court Judge Joel A. Pisano granted summary judgment to the defendants on the defamation claim in Murphy v.Millenium Radio Group, LLC et al. (Case No. 08-1743). Photographer Peter Murphy sued Millenium, owner of radio station WKXW 101.5, and shock jocks Ray Rossi and Craig Carton, who allegedly said Murphy was an untrustworthy business partner and allegedly inferred he was homosexual.
According to the 15-count complaint, Murphy, then a freelance photographer for New Jersey Monthly, snapped a photo of the semi-nude Carton & Rossi that accompanied the magazine's feature profile of the duo. The photo allegedly was scanned and posted on the radio station's Web site and a myspace site that included bits performed by the radio duo, purportedly without a copyright notice crediting Murphy.
Judge Pisano said the defendants' remarks allegedly advising listeners not to do business with Murphy were nondefamatory "rhetorical hyperbole." The court further concluded that the terms gay and homosexual are not susceptible to a defamatory meaning. The latter finding breaks from previous case law in the Garden State, which in 2001 found in Gray v. Press Communications LLC, 342 N.J. Super. 1, 10 (App. Div. 2001) that a false accusation of homosexuality was actionable under defamation.
Since the Gray decision, NJ has passed the Domestic Partnership Act (N.J.S.A. 26:8A1-13) recognizing gay and lesbian relationships, and allowed civil unions (N.J.S.A. 37:1-28, et seq.). Essentially, the evolution of societal thinking concerning same-sex relationships deprives "gay" and "homosexual" of a defamatory meaning, even if the terms are uttered with a defamatory intent, according to the Murphy decision.