An appeals court in Albany yesterday ruled unanimously that being falsely labeled a homosexual does not, in itself, constitute defamation.
In doing so, the Appellate Division's Third Department set a precedent that eliminated its own previous ruling on the matter, as well as those of the other three departments.
"Prior cases categorizing statements that falsely impute homosexuality as defamatory per se are based on the flawed premise that it is shameful and disgraceful to be described as lesbian, gay or bisexual," wrote Justice Thomas Mercure.
He continued: "In light of the tremendous evolution in social attitudes regarding homosexuality...it cannot be said that current public opinion supports a rule that would equate statements imputing homosexuality with accusations of serious criminal conduct or insinuations that an individual has a loathsome disease."
The New York Law Journal describes the details of the case in question thus:
[Yonaty v. Mincolla (pdf)] arose from Broome County, where Jean Mincola spread a rumor that Mark Yonaty was gay, apparently to cause a breakup with Yonaty's longtime girlfriend. Mincolla allegedly told Ruthanne Koffman, a close family friend of the girlfriend, that Yonaty was homosexual. Koffman shared the information with the girlfriend's mother, who told the girlfriend.
The Associated Press notes that, while the Third Department's decision is currently the law of the land, Yonaty could still take his case to New York's Court of Appeal for a second opinion.
[photo via AP]