Employers can offer benefits to unmarried same-sex domestic partners but not unmarried heterosexual couples without running afoul of federal civil rights laws, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled yesterday.

In what is believed only the second district court ruling around the country on this issue, Southern District Judge Robert P. Patterson Jr. rejected claims from a NYNEX cable splicer, Paul Foray, that he was discriminated against “on the basis of sex” when the company denied benefits to his live-in girlfriend.