Call the voicemail of New Paltz, New York, Mayor Jason West and you'll get a prompt to add your name to a waiting list that now holds more than 1,000 names of people waiting to be wed. Despite criminal charges and possible jail time, West plans to continue the nuptials this Saturday. The 26-year-old mayor of the village, which is 80 miles north of New York City, made headlines Friday when he married 25 gay couples.
In a statement released Wednesday (March 3), New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said that state marriage law does not authorize officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A Spitzer aide also told Newsday that the attorney general was not planning to take any legal action against officials who ignore his opinion.
On Tuesday, Ulster County District Attorney Donald A. Williams brought 19 criminal charges against West. The mayor will be arraigned Wednesday evening and faces a fine of up to $500 or up to one year in jail.
Jennifer Smits, who married her partner of eight years, Dana Wegener, in New Paltz on Friday (see "Meet Jennifer And Dana, Newlyweds") lauded West's efforts. "I'm so glad he's stepping up to the plate," she said.
In a move that signaled his tacit support of the mayor, Spitzer also stated that it is permissible under New York law for officials to recognize same-sex marriages that were lawfully performed in other states. There have been many such marriages in recent weeks: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has married more than 3,400 same-sex couples, including Rosie O'Donnell and her partner. A New Mexico county granted same-sex marriage licenses recently, and Massachusetts' top court has ordered lawmakers to allow gay marriages by mid-May. In response to this flurry of activity around the issue, last week President Bush called for a constitutional amendment "defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as husband and wife" (see "President Bush Calls For Amendment Banning Same-Sex Marriage").
Oregon, on the other hand, defines marriage as a civil contract entered into in person by males at least 17 years of age and females at least 17 years of age and does not specify that the union be between a man and a woman. Earlier today, Multnomah County, the state's most populous county, issued a statement indicating that it would start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
A second mayor in New York state plans to take gay marriage one step further. Not only does Nyack Mayor John Shields plan to start marrying gay couples, but he plans to seek a license himself to marry his same-sex partner. Meanwhile, states are scrambling to deal with the legal challenges and implications that are sure to follow from the actions being taken in local municipalities.
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