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New Paltz, NY Mayor Arrested for Solemnizing Same-Sex Marriages

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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]

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, as we end today’s program with Jason West, mayor of New Paltz. 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 New Paltz, the village is continuing to give marriage licenses, even though the mayor has been charged with 19 counts of breaking New York’s marriage law. New Paltz Mayor Jason West joins us on the phone right now.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jason.

MAYOR JASON WEST: Good morning, Amy.

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

MAYOR 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, Section 25 of the Domestic Relations Law says as long as the marriage is properly solemnized, you don’t need a license, as long as it’s been properly solemnized. And that’s what I’ve done, is I’ve solemnized these marriages.

As for 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. And, you know, I took an oath of office last year to uphold that Constitution, and that’s what I intend to continue to do.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what does it mean? You have pled not guilty?

MAYOR JASON WEST: I pled not guilty, yeah.

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

MAYOR JASON WEST: Because there’s a clause in — and this is the DA’s contention. There’s a clause in the Domestic Relations Law that says if a wedding is solemnized and the person who solemnizes it knows the people involved don’t have a license, that’s a misdemeanor. And I’ve 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 me with the fact that I shouldn’t perform more of them. But no one is — 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’ve married?

MAYOR 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 7 years old and who was dressed all in white as a 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 was — one of whom whose name I can’t 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?

MAYOR 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?

MAYOR JASON WEST: A fine, and that’s all. There’s the 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.

MAYOR JASON WEST: I met with John Shields, the mayor of Nyack, Wednesday morning. And he announced that day that he was going to do the same. I think he’s since shifted. He’s spoken to some lawyers who had 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, that the denial was based on the sex of the couples involved.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there.

MAYOR JASON WEST: Great.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much.

MAYOR JASON WEST: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: New Paltz Mayor Jason West. And that does it for the show. Democracy Now! produced by Mike Burke, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Ana Nogueira, Elizabeth Press, Jeremy Scahill. Mike DiFilippo is our engineer. Rich Kim is engineering, as well. Our website is democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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