ALBANY, N.Y. — A New York appellate court on Thursday ruled that it was not slanderous to falsely say that another person is gay.
Justice Thomas E. Mercure of the Appellate Division’s Third Department, writing for the court in the unanimous decision said, “that society as a whole no longer treated such labels as defamation.”
“Without defamation, there is no longer slander,” Mecure said, adding that earlier rulings were “inconsistent with current public policy and should no longer be followed,” and were “based on a false premise that it is shameful and disgraceful to be described as lesbian, gay or bisexual.”
While the decision sets new case law in New York, it could still go to a definitive ruling by the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
The ruling stems from an incident in the Binghamton area, reported the Associated Press.
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.
Jonathan L. Entin, a professor of law and political science at Case Western Reserve University Law School in Ohio, told AP that with this New York decision Thursday, 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.
“It doesn’t mean this is the universal view of the country,” Entin 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, the decision in New York may reflect society more than changing civil law. Entin said that few slander suits over name-calling ever make it to court, partly because filing a legal action makes the claim more public.
Jay Blotcher, a longtime LGBTQ equality rights activist from the Hudson Valley north of New York City noted that while he saw pockets of tolerance in urban areas, the revelation that someone is gay could get you “something akin to a lynching mob” in other parts of the country.