A New York appellate court has reconsidered precedent and found that wrongly calling someone gay is of itself no longer to be considered slander.
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.
As noted above however, this case could still be appealed and even though such decisions have been made in other states, this does not preclude other courts in other jurisdictions holding that falsely labelling someone gay is defamatory.
This ruling comes from a lawsuit brought by Mark Yonaty, of the Binghamton area, who claimed that a woman had spread a rumor suggesting that he was gay with the express intent of making girlfriend break up with him.
When the suit was brought the woman’s lawyers attempted to have the slander aspect dropped on grounds that calling someone gay does not amount to defamation. A lower court judge rejected this, citing earlier higher court precedents, but on appeal the woman’s lawyers have found traction.
Legal scholars have pointed out that while being called gay may still be considered defamatory to certain groups, such groups would now be in a minority in civil society. As such, this ruling does not so much mark a change in the law as it does the law reflecting what has already happened in terms of civil society’s opinions about gay people.