Defamation – and its synonyms “slander” (spoken defamation) and “libel” (published defamation) – is generally defined as a false statement of fact that causes harm to a person and his reputation. Obviously, its more complicated than just that, and the law is different if you’re a public figure or a private person.
In New York, “a statement has defamatory connotations if it tends to expose a person to ‘public hatred, shame, obloquy, contumely, odium, contempt, ridicule, aversion, ostracism, degradation or disgrace, or to induce an evil opinion of [a person] in the minds of right-thinking persons.'” A plaintiff suing for slander must show that he has suffered damages unless the alleged statement is considered slander per se.
Slander per se, until recently, included “statements (i) charging [a] plaintiff with a serious crime; (ii) that tend to injure another in his or her trade, business or profession; (iii) that [a] plaintiff has a loathsome disease; or (iv) imputing unchastity to a woman”… the Appellate Division Departments, including this Court in dicta, have recognized statements falsely imputing homosexuality as a fifth per se category.”
Because of changing social perceptions and changes in both federal and state laws concerning homosexuality, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department recently ruled that the inclusion of homosexuality among the per se categories imputed some sort of shame or disgrace, and ruled that it would no longer be considered defamatory per se.
This little, barely-noticed ruling, is yet another step in the massive societal shift that has been taking place over the last several decades whereby homophobia has gone from being the statutory norm to, itself, a subject of shame and sometime criminality. While the people who rely on, and profit from, hatred and fear are having their last gasp, at least in New York State, we can say we’re doing the right thing.