May 27, 2018
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Court Rejects Howard K. Stern’s Gay Defamation Claim


“Today, the court made clear that defamation law cannot rely on prejudices about what it means to be gay in America” 

(New York,) — The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York today rejected Howard K. Stern’s claim that being called gay is defamatory per se and ruled that he is not entitled to collect damages on this basis. Lambda Legal argued this point in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in March 2009. 

Judge Chin writes, “The past few decades have seen a veritable sea change in attitudes about homosexuality. First, and perhaps most importantly, in 2003 the United States Supreme Court, in a sweeping decision, invalidated laws criminalizing intimate homosexual conduct, holding that such laws violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 578 (2003)” …. “While I certainly agree that gays and lesbians continue to face prejudice, I respectfully disagree that the existence of this continued prejudice leads to the conclusion that there is widespread view of gays and lesbians as contemptible and disgraceful.” 

"Today, the court made clear that defamation law cannot rely on prejudices about what it means to be gay in America,” said Thomas W. Ude, Jr., Senior Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal. 

In 2007, Howard K. Stern filed a lawsuit claiming that he was defamed by passages in a book titled Blonde Ambition: The Untold Story Behind the Death of Anna Nicole Smith. Lambda Legal's friend-of-the-court brief argued that Stern's first two claims of defamation rest on the flawed premise that being called gay would expose someone to public hatred and shame — a premise that is disproved daily throughout New York, including through the service of New York's many openly gay and lesbian public officials. Validation of this type of defamation claim, and its underlying premise, would have a demeaning effect toward gay men and lesbians, similar to the effect caused by state sodomy laws before they were struck down by the US Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, Lambda Legal's 2003 landmark victory. Today’s decision is in sync with New York law and public policy, which has repeatedly affirmed the rights and dignity of gay men and lesbians. 

The case is Stern v. Rita Cosby, et al. 

Thomas W. Ude, Jr., Senior Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal is handling the matter for Lambda Legal. 

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