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Calling Someone Gay Not Slander: NY Court

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

Some defamation cases just got more difficult for plaintiffs in New York. A state appeals court has overturned decades of precedent and ruled that calling someone gay is not slander per se.

Prior rulings, the court wrote, were all "based on a false premise that it is shameful and disgraceful to be described as lesbian, gay or bisexual." Such a conclusion is "inconsistent with current public policy," particularly in light of New York's anti-discrimination and marriage equality laws.

While this ruling certainly indicates that LGBT persons are more respected by the law, it doesn't actually say what everyone thinks it does. Calling someone gay is not slander per se in New York, though it arguably could still be considered slander in some situations.

In order to prove slander, which is just a spoken form of defamation, a plaintiff must ordinarily show that he suffered some sort of definite economic or monetary loss. However, the law has long held that certain types of defamatory statements expose a person to so much public hatred and ridicule that such proof is not necessary. These statements are known as slander per se.

In most jurisdictions, it is slander per se to accuse someone of a serious crime; to make allegations injurious to their business or profession; to accuse a woman of being unchaste; and to claim someone has a loathsome disease. In some jurisdictions, falsely accusing someone of homosexuality also falls into this category.

The New York court has decided that this should no longer be the case in the state. The real effect of this decision is that plaintiffs can no longer simply claim that someone calling them gay is slander. They will now have to specifically pinpoint the economic losses they suffered as a result of such an accusation, which is really difficult to do.

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