Gay and lesbian couples who married in countries or US states where same-sex marriage is legal will have their status recognised by the state of New York.

Governor David Paterson’s legal counsel has written to state agencies informing them that after a court ruling, failure to recognise gay marriages violates the state’s human rights law.

In February the New York state appeals court ruled that same-sex marriages should be recognised.

“This was in direct response to a court ruling,” Erin Duggan, the governor’s spokeswoman, told CNN.

“Just to make sure all the state agencies are on the same page.”

In May 2007, the New York State Department of Civil Service issued a revision to its policy in which it announced that it would recognise, as spouses, any marriage of same-sex couples performed in jurisdictions where such marriage is legal.

The lawsuit began when a group of New York State taxpayers represented by the Alliance Defence Fund argued that the policy change was unconstitutional and an illegal expenditure of state funds.

In February state Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. McNamara ruled:

“The policy memorandum issued by the New York State Department of Civil Service Employee Benefits Division in which it recognised, as spouses, the parties to any same sex marriage, performed in jurisdictions where such marriage is legal, is both lawful and within its authority.”

Lambda Legal, a gay rights group, intervened in the lawsuit Lewis v. Department of Civil Service on behalf of Peri Rainbow and Tamela Sloan.

Rainbow and Sloan are state employees who were married in Canada.

The New York State Health Insurance Programme provides important medical benefits for them as a family.