January 9, 2013

New York state's top court on Tuesday refused to hear an appeal of a ruling that held it was not slander per se to falsely call someone gay. Without explanation, the court denied an appeal from Mark Yonaty, who claimed in a 2009 defamation lawsuit that a former friend spread a false rumor that he was gay and ruined his relationship with his girlfriend. The Appellate Division, Third Department, in May dismissed the case, holding that falsely labeling a person as a homosexual did not constitute slander per se, which is a form of defamation. Justice Thomas Mercure wrote that a statement is defamatory when it exposes a person "to public hatred, shame ... contempt, ridicule ... degradation or disgrace." Because homosexuality no longer carries that stigma in New York, he said, calling someone gay cannot constitute defamation per se. Courts in New York recognize four forms of defamation per se, including false statements that allege serious crimes, injure a person's business or career, claim someone has a loathsome disease or impute unchastity to a woman. The Third Department decision overturned appellate decisions from the 1980s that held that falsely calling someone a homosexual was a fifth form of slander per se.