Until recently, falsely accusing someone of being gay was considered defamatory per se in New York. Recently however, a New York appellate court broke with decades of precedent in ruling that such a statement no longer constitutes defamation per se. In so ruling the court cited recent transformations in the law and cultural attitudes towards homosexuality as justification for changing the standard as it relates to accusations of being gay.
Defamatory statements fall into one of two distinct categories: defamation per se and defamation per quod. When a statement is considered to be defamatory per se, it is considered so obviously harmful to one’s reputation that proof of harm or actual damages are not required.
The plaintiff in the case was a former elder in a Seventh Day Adventist church in New York. According to the complaint, the plaintiff alleged that he was defamed by the pastor of the defendant church when the pastor told members of the congregation that the plaintiff was a homosexual who viewed gay pornography on the church’s computer. The complaint further alleged that the pastor made the statements to influence the church to vote to relieve the plaintiff of his responsibilities at the church and to terminate his membership. The former elder responded by suing the pastor and the church to recover damages for defamation per se. Continue reading ›