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New Paltz, NY Mayor Arrested For Solemnizing Same Sex Marriages

StoryMarch 05, 2004
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Paul Harris

U.S. correspondent for the London Observer who reported on this story over the weekend.

Mayor Jason West talks about why he feels it is his constitutional duty to continue solemnizing same sex marriages even though he was arrested Wednesday for breaking the state’s marriage law. [includes transcript]

In New York City, dozens of same sex couples gathered outside City Hall yesterday demanding marriage rights.

They were turned away.

Meanwhile north of the city in the town of New Paltz, the village is continuing to solemnize same sex marriages even though the mayor has been charged with 19 counts of breaking the stateÂ’s marriage law.

  • Jason West, mayor of New Paltz, NY

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: New Paltz Mayor, Jason West joins us on the phone right now. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jason.

JASON WEST: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about your decision to defy the law? Do you see it as doing that?

JASON WEST: Actually, I see it as my decision to uphold the law. There’s actually one clarification. We’re not issuing marriage licenses here. And New York State doesn’t require them. Article 3 of Section 25 of the Domestic Relations Law says that as long as the marriage license is properly solemnized, you don’t need a license, and that’s what I’ve done, I’ve solemnized these marriages. As to why I chose to do it, our State Constitution requires equal protection under the law. Our laws are gender neutral, they don’t mention the gender of people who get married. I took an oath of office last year to uphold that Constitution, and that’s what I intend to continue to do.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean? You have plead not guilty?

JASON WEST: I have plead not guilty.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you being charged in a way that the other mayors in Oregon and San Francisco are not?

JASON WEST: Because there’s a clause in — this is the D.A.'s contention — there's a clause in the Domestic Relations Office says if a wedding is solemnized and the person that solemnized knows that the people involved don’t have a license, that’s a misdemeanor. And I have been charged with 19 counts of marrying people knowing they didn’t have a license. It’s interesting that not one person has challenged the legality of the marriages themselves. They’re charging the fact that I shouldn’t perform more of them. But no one, there’s no lawsuits, and no question in the press that these people are legally married in New York State.

AMY GOODMAN: Who are some of the people that you have married?

JASON WEST: My good friends, Billiam and Major Jeffrey McGowan were the first couple. Jeffrey is a retired major in the U.S. Army, he served in the 82nd Airborne during the first Gulf War. Three of the couples had children. One of the most touching moments was one of the couples had a daughter, Rebecca, who is seven years old, dressed all in white as the flower girl and walked through 500 strangers and the national media throwing flowers in front of her two moms before they were married. The final couple I married is, one of whom name I cannot remember at the moment — I just met most of them that morning — was a survivor of the World Trade Center bombings. He was pulled out of the towers five minutes before they collapsed and had to be helped to the stage. He had difficulty walking.

AMY GOODMAN: When do you go to trial?

JASON WEST: I’ve been told three weeks, as far as I know. I was arraigned on Wednesday and I go back in three weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the sentence you face?

JASON WEST: A fine, and that’s all. There’s a potential for jail time, but the District Attorney has said he’s not interested in pursuing that. So, at this point, I’m just facing a fine.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jason West, it sounds like you’ve also inspired the mayor of Nyack, to do the same. Nyack, New York.

AMY GOODMAN: I met with John Shields, the Mayor of Nyack Wednesday morning. He announced that he was going to do the same. I think he has since shifted. He’s spoken to some lawyers who have suggested that — the mayor of Nyack himself is gay — and he went down to his own town hall and requested a marriage license for himself and his partner, and was denied, and got that in writing. The denial was based on the sex of the couples involved.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there.


AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much.

JASON WEST: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: New Paltz mayor, Jason West. That does it for the show.

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