Court Rules 'Gay' No Longer Defamatory

A New York court ruled that falsely calling someone “gay” is no longer slander, in part because of the shift in cultural attitudes.

BY Julie Bolcer

June 01 2012 10:45 AM ET

Calling someone “gay” when they are not is no longer slander, a mid-level appeals court in New York ruled unanimously on Thursday.

Justice Thomas E. Mercure of the Appellate Division’s Third Department wrote that earlier rulings equating the words “lesbian, gay or bisexual,” with defamation were based on a “false premise that it is shameful and disgraceful,” reports the Associated Press. The absence of defamation precludes slander, the court said, while noting that previous rulings were “inconsistent with current public policy and should no longer be followed.”

The court ruled in the case of a Binghamton-area man, Mark Yonaty, who claimed that a woman had spread a rumor that he was gay in the hope it would cause his girlfriend to break up with him. The plaintiff claimed that the incident destroyed his relationship. 

Legal experts interviewed by the AP said the ruling reflects a change in public opinion more than civil law. Being called gay, whether falsely or not, is still difficult for people in many parts of the country, as antibullying campaigns devoted to eliminating phrases such as “That’s so gay” attest.

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