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It’s Legally OK to be Gay

Pride flag is raised!

Photo by Flickr user Whitney Arlene

Defamation – and its synonyms “slander” (spoken defamation) and “libel” (published defamation) – is generally defined as a false statement of fact that causes harm to a person and his reputation.  Obviously, its more complicated than just that, and the law is different if you’re a public figure or a private person. 

In New York, “a statement has defamatory connotations if it tends to expose a person to ‘public hatred, shame, obloquy, contumely, odium, contempt, ridicule, aversion, ostracism, degradation or disgrace, or to induce an evil opinion of [a person] in the minds of right-thinking persons.'”  A plaintiff suing for slander must show that he has suffered damages unless the alleged statement is considered slander per se

Slander per se, until recently, included “statements (i) charging [a] plaintiff with a serious crime; (ii) that tend to injure another in his or her trade, business or profession; (iii) that [a] plaintiff has a loathsome disease; or (iv) imputing unchastity to a woman”… the Appellate Division Departments, including this Court in dicta, have recognized statements falsely imputing homosexuality as a fifth per se category.”

Because of changing social perceptions and changes in both federal and state laws concerning homosexuality, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department recently ruled that the inclusion of homosexuality among the per se categories imputed some sort of shame or disgrace, and ruled that it would no longer be considered defamatory per se. 

This little, barely-noticed ruling, is yet another step in the massive societal shift that has been taking place over the last several decades whereby homophobia has gone from being the statutory norm to, itself, a subject of shame and sometime criminality. While the people who rely on, and profit from, hatred and fear are having their last gasp, at least in New York State, we can say we’re doing the right thing. 


  • The Defamatory Connotations thing seems pretty broad and vague.  Pretty much says you can’t say anything about anyone even if its true if it gives people a negative impression.

    • No, the alleged statement of fact must be false to be defamatory.  The connotations provision underscores the fact that the false statement must also do some sort of harm to a person’s reputation in order to be actionable. 

  • Progress of a sort.   However to be called out as gay as say Reverend Teddy Long or Reverend Ted Haggard
    or Senator Larry Craig without the tell tale ripping out of the closet would in their eyes be most defamatory.  People who rip closet cases from closets should love this news.