Judge bars New Paltz, N.Y., mayor from marrying gay couples

BY admin

June 08 2004 12:00 AM ET

A New York State supreme court judge on Monday permanently barred the mayor of New Paltz from marrying gay couples who do not have licenses but left unanswered the question of whether the state ban on same-sex unions is constitutional.

Justice Michael Kavanagh said the decision regarding who may marry in New York State must be made by the state legislature or the courts. "The mayor by his office is obligated to comply with the law and abide by it," Kavanagh wrote. "A public officer may not question the constitutionality of a statute and refuse to comply with its provisions."

Mayor Jason West was sued after performing more than two-dozen same-sex weddings on February 27, drawing the Hudson Valley village of New Paltz into the growing debate over same-sex unions. Gay marriages began in Massachusetts on May 17, after the state supreme judicial court ruled it was unconstitutional to deny licenses to same-sex couples. West has said he believes same-sex marriages are valid under New York State law, a view that puts him at odds with many state officials, including Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, and Republican governor George Pataki.

Kavanagh did not issue an opinion on whether gay marriage should be allowed, confining his ruling to marriage without a license. "Without a doubt, the decision to refuse to issue a marriage license to individuals because of their sexual preference may well have constitutional implications and, as the mayor insists, may violate those constitutional provisions that guarantee to all equal protection of the laws," the judge wrote.

At a hearing on the New Paltz civil suit last month, a lawyer for the Liberty Council, a conservative Florida-based group, argued that West violated state law by officiating at ceremonies for couples who lacked marriage licenses. "We are obviously thrilled the court realized the mayor's opinion does not override the legislature's decision that marriage is between one man and one woman," said Rena Lindevaldsen, a lawyer for the Liberty Council. "The mayor is not a law unto himself, and we are thrilled the rule of law has been upheld."

West's lawyer, Joshua Rosenkranz, said he would appeal the ruling.

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