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New York State Enacts Civil Rights Bill Prohibiting Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation

January 2, 2003

On December 17, 2002, New York Governor Pataki signed a civil rights bill that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill, which amends the New York State Human Rights Law, prohibits discrimination against gays and lesbians in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit.

Prior to the bill's passage, New York's Human Rights Law prohibited discrimination based on age, race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability, marital status, and genetic predisposition or carrier status. The recently enacted bill adds "sexual orientation" to the categories protected under the statute. The employment provisions of the Human Rights Law apply at all businesses that employ four or more employees.

By passing the bill, New York becomes the thirteenth state to extend its prohibition on employment discrimination to sexual orientation. The other 12 states that have similar statutes are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. In addition, several municipalities -- including New York City -- and the District of Columbia have civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Federal employment discrimination laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability; however, they do not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. As a result of New York State's inclusion of the "sexual orientation" category in its civil rights law, New York affords protections to gays and lesbians that federal law does not.