It seems that gay law reform is gaining inexorable momentum in the advanced industrial world. You can’t turn on the television or open a newspaper without seeing some new announcement about a form of law reform affecting the GLBTI community.

Continuing this trend, we’ve received news that the Governor of New York has recently issued a directive to all state agencies to legally recognise same-sex unions performed elsewhere. Coincidentally, the New York directive preceded, by one day, California’s Supreme Court ruling last month that the prohibition against gay marriage was contrary to the Californian constitution.

It is quite clear that the directive has been influenced by several recent decisions by the courts in New York that have found discrimination against same-sex couples in respect of accessing certain state benefits is unlawful.

While New York is yet to permit gay marriage, the directive represents an important step. Legalising gay marriage has long been on the agenda of Democrats in New York, but the Republican-dominated Senate has proven to be a stumbling block. Administrative directives issued to state agencies circumvent this legislative impasse and represent a practical means of enacting gay law reform in the interim.

This directive is ground-breaking in several regards. Firstly, although gay marriage is not permitted in New York, the New York directive will allow New Yorkers to take advantage of Massachusetts and California’s gay marriage laws and be recognised in their home state. These changes will also mean New York will recognise gay marriages performed in other external jurisdictions, such as Canada, Spain and Belgium.

There is a body of research that suggests public sector reforms have a way of filtering down to the rest of society. For example, employment practices originally trialled in the public sector in Australia have now become commonplace in the corporate world. Ensuring that state agencies have their houses in order when it comes to ensuring an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians should act as a powerful voice for change in other arenas.

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