New York Gov. David Paterson is walking a political tightrope.
Paterson's legal counsel, David Nocenti, has issued a memo ordering state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states and countries, such as Massachusetts and Canada — even though New York itself does not recognize same-sex marriage. California will join the list of places where same-sex couples can legally wed starting in mid-June, unless the state's high court issues a stay on the ruling that overturned the state's ban on gay marriage.
Paterson's sweeping directive was issued May 14; it ordered state agencies to review their policies and to ensure they allow equal rights to married same-sex couples.
Last year, Paterson's predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, introduced a bill into the state Legislature that would have legalized gay marriage. The bill passed in the Democratic-led Assembly, but the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to call it up for a vote.
Paterson tells NPR's Noah Adams that New York has had a "long tradition" of recognizing marriages that are legally performed in different states or outside the U.S.
"All we're doing today is making sure that we extend that same right — which is a constitutional federal right — to those individuals who have out-of-state marriage licenses who are coming to New York," Paterson says. "Marriage equality is an issue that is still being debated in New York, but on the issue of whether or not we would accept the marriages from out of state, I did not see it in conflict with any court decisions, all of which have been that we have to respect those rights."
As for whether the state Legislature has any recourse to stop the order, Paterson says several states have passed Defense of Marriage Acts, which prohibit governors from delivering such directives. (See map above, left.)
"If this Legislature passed it, I would be bound by it," he says. "But we don't have that type of restriction in New York. … There are over 1,100 types of regulations and remedies that are not available to domestic partners, but are to people who are married. Certainly, at a time in our society when only 50 percent of the marriages that are conducted are actually working, I thought that this might increase the success rate a little bit."