ALBANY, N.Y. — A court says it's no longer slander in New York to falsely call someone gay.
A mid-level appeals court on Thursday wiped out decades of rulings, including its own, to say that society no longer treats false comments that someone is gay, lesbian or bisexual as defamation. Without defamation, there is no longer slander, the court ruled.
"These appellate division decisions are inconsistent with current public policy and should no longer be followed," stated the unanimous decision written by Justice Thomas Mercure of the Appellate Division's Third Department based in Albany. While the decision sets new case law in New York now, it could still go to a definitive ruling by the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.
The New York decision finds that the comment is now "based on a false premise that it is shameful and disgraceful to be described as lesbian, gay or bisexual."
The ruling stems from an incident in the Binghamton area. Mark Yonaty sued, claiming a woman spread a rumor she heard in hopes that Yonaty's girlfriend would break up with him. He said the comment hurt and ultimately destroyed the relationship. Yonaty and his attorney didn't respond to a request for comment. The decision, as in many defamation suits, provides few details.
With Thursday's decision and similar ones in several other states, calling someone gay is eliminated as defamation, just as being called black is no longer grounds for slander, said Jonathan L. Entin, law and political science professor at Case Western Reserve University Law School in Ohio.
"It doesn't mean this is the universal view of the country," he said. "The traditional view of being called gay was like being called an evil person. The state of public opinion has changed, but there are still people who feel that way."
In that way, he said, New York's decision may reflect society more than changing civil law. He noted that few slander suits over name-calling get to court, partly because filing a legal action makes the claim more public. Jay Blotcher is a longtime gay rights activist from the Hudson Valley who sees pockets of tolerance in urban areas but says the revelation that you're gay can get you "something akin to a lynching mob" in other parts of the country.
"It's still a thorny issue," Blotcher said. "Bottom line, just because you have gay characters on television that make everybody laugh doesn't mean that the entire country embraces gay people as equal citizens yet."
Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed to this report.