A New York court has backed the state Governor’s order that gay and lesbian couples who legally married in other countries or US states will have their status recognised.

A legal challenge brought by the Alliance Defence Fund, a conservative Christian pressure group, and Republican politicians was rejected by Judge Lucy Billings.

“The governor’s directive is an incremental but important step toward equality long denied,” she said.

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

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 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.

Roman Catholic groups view the Governor’s order as an attempt to push for same-sex marriage in New York.