LGBT Rights

Laws Protecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers

New York State residents receive LGBT-related and same-sex marriage protections under a variety of state and local laws. For information on whether a specific law applies to you, or if you believe you have been the victim of discrimination, contact the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250 or Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov.

New York State LGBT Laws

The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA)

The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, effective as of January 16, 2003, makes it unlawful for anyone in New York State to be discriminated against in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. SONDA, in combination with laws prohibiting discrimination based on marital status, together prohibit discrimination against same-sex couples in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations.

With respect to transgender people, SONDA does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression. However, SONDA does apply when a transgender person is discriminated against based upon his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation. Courts have also held that transgender people are protected under provisions of the New York State Human Rights Law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and/or disability. Moreover, in 2009, then-Governor David Paterson issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination in state employment on the basis of gender identity.

If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination prohibited by SONDA, you may file a complaint with the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Attorney General's Office. Making a complaint with the Attorney General does not satisfy other statutory filing deadlines that may apply.

Dignity for All Students Act (DASA)

The Dignity for All Students Act, effective as of July 1, 2012, seeks to provide the State’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying on school property, school buses, and during school functions. In 2012, the law was extended to apply to cyberbullying, prohibiting bullying and harassment via electronic communication. Prohibited activities can include aggressive conduct, threats, intimidation or abuse that unreasonably and substantially interferes with another student’s educational performance. For more information on DASA, click here. 

Local Laws Prohibiting Discrimination Against Gender Identity and/or Expression

Alongside the protections afforded by SONDA, various New York jurisdictions, including but not limited to those listed below, prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in one or more of the following contexts: public employment, private employment, public accommodations, education and/or housing

  • City of Albany
  • Village of Alfred
  • City of Binghamton
  • Town of Brighton
  • City of Buffalo
  • Town of East Hampton
  • City of Ithaca
  • New York City
  • City of Plattsburgh
  • City of Rochester
  • Town of Southampton
  • City of Troy
  • City of Watertown
  • Albany County
  • Nassau County
  • Onondaga County
  • Suffolk County
  • Tompkins County
  • Westchester County

Six cities and three counties in New York State prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. These are Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, New York City, Rochester, and Suffolk, Tompkins and Westchester Counties.

The State’s Department of Health accommodates changes of sex designation on birth certificates upon the receipt of specified documentation; this includes but is not limited to a completed application and a letter from a surgeon specifying the date, place and type of sex reassignment surgery performed.

Hate Crimes Law

New York hate-crimes law, enforceable by local District Attorney’s Offices, explicitly addresses violence motivated by the “belief or perception” of the victim’s sexual orientation but does not explicitly address gender identity-based hate crimes. Under federal law, however, after the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, the definition of hate-crimes has been expanded to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. The law also gives the United States Department of Justice expanded authority to prosecute such hate crimes when local authorities do not. Individuals cannot privately enforce either the New York or federal hate-crimes laws.

Marriage Equality

Same-Sex Marriages Performed in New York

New York State’s 2011 Marriage Equality Act also gives same-sex couples the right to marry in New York State and provides them the same rights, responsibilities, and benefits under State and local law enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. The Marriage Equality Act does not require religious institutions to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, but no state employee can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Major benefits of the New York Marriage Equality Act include the opportunity for same-sex couples to reap state tax benefits, state and municipal employee benefits, insurance benefits from state-licensed insurance agencies, health care benefits, expanded property rights, parental rights and a wide array of legal rights. Same-sex couples are now able to file joint state tax returns, take spousal deductions on state income taxes, exclude employer contributions for health insurance, exempt property from the state estate tax, and receive other tax benefits previously available only to opposite-sex couples. However, because federal law currently precludes the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages under the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), same-sex couples are prevented from jointly filing their federal taxes and from taking advantage of other federal tax exemptions available to opposite-sex couples such as the estate tax marital deduction, and other income tax deductions and credits.

The legality of DOMA is expected to be decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2013. In October 2012, the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers New York State) held sexual orientation to be a protected classification and struck down as unconstitutional DOMA’s definition of marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. This same issue was argued before the Supreme Court in late March 2013, with a decision expected later in the year. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, leading a coalition of more than a dozen states, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that DOMA violates same-sex couples’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. To read more, click here

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