Overturning a nearly three-decade old legal precedent, a New York appellate court this week ruled that a statement labeling someone as gay cannot be defamatory per se.
In the seven-page decision by the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Judicial Department in the case, Yonaty v. Mincolla (Case No. 512996), Judge Thomas E. Mercure wrote that as a matter of law, falsely stating that an individual is gay is not slanderous per se, and that past state court rulings are "inconsistent with current public policy and should no longer be followed."
Acknowledging, for example, the New York Legislature's passage in June 2011, of the Marriage Equality Act [Domestic Relations Law Sec. 10-a, as amended by L2011, ch 95, Sec. 3] that granted same-sex couples the right to marry in New York, the appellate court overruled Matherson v. Marchello, 100 A.D.2d 233, 241-242 (2d Dept. 1984), which considered allegations of homosexuality defamatory per se in light of the then-existing "social opprobrium of homosexuality."
According to accounts by the Associated Press and the Media Law Prof Blog, in the present case, plaintiff Mark Yonaty alleged that defendant Jean Mincolla spread a rumor that Yonaty was gay intending that it harm Yonaty's relationship with his girlfriend, which he claimed it did. As reported by this blog [see "TUOL" post 6/24/11], Broome County Supreme Court Justice Phillip R. Rumsey previously denied Mincolla's motion for summary judgment to dismiss the suit.