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DiNapoli letter asks feds to recognize gay marriage

ALBANY -- New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is using the power of the state's $160 billion pension system to urge President Barack Obama to order federal agencies and programs around the country to recognize gay marriages performed in New York.

DiNapoli's idea is to adopt a "place of celebration" standard in federal government, meaning gay marriages that take place in New York would be recognized even in states that do not permit them. It could be a big push in DiNapoli's effort to get major companies that do business with the state pension fund to adopt anti-discrimination measures when providing benefits for gay couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a ruling that muddled the rights of gay couples married in New York who move to or work in states where gay marriage isn't legal.

DiNapoli was scheduled to send his plea to Obama in a letter to be released yesterday.

"It's good for business," said Susan Sommer, director of Constitutional Litigation and Senior Counsel Lambda Legal, which defends gay rights. "It will remove any lingering argument some companies have been hiding behind . . . and it reflects some very well-established principles."

Stephen Hayford, legislative director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a group that led the opposition to New York's gay marriage law, said he expects several lawsuits will seek to clarify or build on the Supreme Court's decision.

"Given the lack of clarity, it would be premature for the president to take Comptroller DiNapoli up on his request," Hayford said.

DiNapoli is sole trustee of the state's pension fund and has used it as leverage to persuade companies he invests in to bolster environmental protections, combat terrorism and disclose campaign donations. He argues recognizing gay marriages is just good business.

"I have become increasingly concerned that companies that refuse to protect their employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and those that exclude same-sex spouses from employee benefit plans that are available to opposite-sex spouses, are hurting their financial bottom line," DiNapoli wrote in the letter to Obama.

DiNapoli said discrimination hurts a company's ability to recruit and retain top employees, and that could hurt the pension fund's investment in those companies.

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