Ministers due in court for same-sex marriage charges

BY admin

March 23 2004 1:00 AM ET

Two ministers facing charges for officiating at same-sex weddings were expected to plead innocent at their arraignment Monday. Unitarian Universalist ministers Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey were charged with criminal offenses for marrying 13 same-sex couples earlier this month during a public ceremony in New Paltz, N.Y.

New Paltz has been a flash point in the national same-sex marriage debate since Mayor Jason West performed rapid-fire marriages for 25 couples on February 27. The two ministers stepped in after West was temporarily barred from performing more weddings due to a civil suit.

Now, like West, Greenleaf and Sangrey face misdemeanor charges of solemnizing marriages without a license. Each charge carries a fine of $25 to $500 or up to a year in jail, although Ulster County district attorney Donald Williams has said he does not expect to seek jail time. Critics claim prosecutors breached the wall separating church and state because Unitarian ministers have officiated at religious marriages for same-sex couples for decades.

Williams claims the marriages were "drastically" different from religious ceremonies because Greenleaf and Sangrey publicly said they considered them civil. Clergy performed three same-sex weddings on the steps of New York City Hall last week in support of the pair. And on Saturday, Greenleaf and five other ministers performed another series of same-sex weddings at a bed-and-breakfast in New Paltz.

Chief Assistant District Attorney John Prizzia said no additional charges were expected to be filed against Greenleaf Monday in connection with Saturday's marriages. Williams has said his office will review police reports before deciding on whether to file more charges. Prosecutors in New York City opted not to press charges for the ceremonies there. Greenleaf lives in Poughkeepsie; Sangrey is from Bedford Hills.

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