Tort Law

Gay Label Is No Longer Per Se Defamation, New York Appeals Court Says

  • Print

Falsely labeling someone as gay is no longer per se defamation, according to a New York appeals court.

Prior decisions to the contrary “are based upon the flawed premise that it is shameful and disgraceful to be described as lesbian, gay or bisexual,” according to the decision (PDF) on Thursday by New York’s Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department. The New York Law Journal and the Associated Press have stories.

Whether a statement is defamatory depends “upon the temper of the times [and] the current of contemporary opinion,” the court said, quoting a prior decision. The opinion noted “the tremendous evolution in social attitudes” and state legal protections for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

When statements are deemed slander per se, the plaintiff does not have to allege special damages showing economic loss. New York has four other per se defamation categories. They include false statements: accusing someone of a serious crime, tending to injure a person in his or her profession, suggesting that a person has a loathsome disease, or accusing a woman of unchastity.

The plaintiff, Mark Yonaty, had alleged the defendant spread a rumor he was gay with the hope of causing his girlfriend to break up with him.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.