Charges Dropped Against Mayor Who Married Same-Sex Couples

Small-town New York politician deems ruling a 'complete vindication.'

All criminal charges were dropped on Tuesday against a small-town New York mayor who married same-sex couples last year, according to The Associated Press.

New Paltz, New York, Mayor Jason West had been charged with 24 misdemeanor counts of "solemnizing (or formalizing) marriage without a license" and faced up to a year in jail. He deemed the ruling a "complete vindication."

On February 27, 2004, the then-26-year-old politician married about two dozen same-sex couples on the steps of the Village Hall in New Paltz, about 80 miles north of New York City (see "Gay Weddings To Continue In Upstate New York Town, Mayor Says").

Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams scrubbed the charges because he said he believed a trial would be "unnecessary and divisive," the AP reported.

"In our opinion, to permit this case to go to trial would not be to the best interest of this community," Williams said in a letter to the town judge. "Instead, in essence, it would allow an individual to exploit the criminal justice system for their own gain, and we simply cannot permit that."

The charges against West were originally dismissed by New Paltz Town Judge Jonathan Katz in June 2004 on constitutional grounds, but they were reinstated by a county judge in February.

West has maintained throughout that he was upholding gay couples' constitutional rights to equal protection — and therefore his oath of office — by allowing them to wed.

"As I have said all along, I believe firmly in the rule of law," he said in a statement last March. "I believe everyone who swears an oath to uphold the Constitution has an independent obligation to implement its commands. But in our system of constitutional government, judges have the last word, and I intend to fully abide by the judge's decision.

"I will continue doing what I can to advance the cause we have undertaken together, but the movement that is flowering here now does not depend, and never has depended, upon the actions of a single mayor in a small village," he continued.

West was the second public U.S. official to preside over same-sex weddings, after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (see California Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Marriages Null And Void"). West is still barred from performing same-sex marriages, and his court appeal will be heard in Albany in September.