New York insurers, health maintenance organizations and employee benefit plans should handle consumers who have married same-sex partners out-of-state the same way they handle other married consumers.

The New York State Insurance Department discusses recognition of same-sex partner marriages performed legally in other jurisdictions in Circular Letter Number 27 (2008).

New York state does not have a law permitting individuals to marry other individuals of the same sex in New York.

But department officials note in the circular letter that a state appeals court held in Martinez vs. Monroe Community College in February that a resident who married a partner of the same sex in Canada was entitled to have her marriage recognized in New York “as a matter of comity.”

“Shortly thereafter, the insurance department received inquiries from both consumers and industry seeking guidance as to how insurance companies…should treat same-sex couples in marriages legally performed outside the state of New York,” officials write in the circular letter.

In May, New York’s highest court refused to hear an appeal of the February decision, officials write.

Unless and until other courts rule otherwise, the Martinez case is the controlling precedent for all trial courts in the state, officials write.

The department’s general counsel’s office today issued a legal opinion concluding that same-sex spouses wed through “marriages legally performed outside of New York must be treated as spouses for purposes of the New York Insurance Law, including all provisions governing health insurance,” officials write.

Employers that offer group health plans must offer legal same-sex spouses the same access to coverage that they would offer to opposite-sex spouses, officials write.

The analyses and conclusions in the opinion “are applicable to all other kinds of insurance, too,” officials write.

“An insurer’s refusal to extend health insurance or other coverage on an equal basis to same-sex and opposite-sex spouses may constitute an unfair act or practice,” officials write.

“In addition, an employer’s failure to treat same-sex and opposite-sex spouses equally for purposes of health insurance coverage or otherwise may violate New York Executive Law Section 296(1)(a), which also targets unlawful discrimination,” officials write.