New Paltz, N.Y., same-sex marriages remain valid
September 18 2004 12:00 AM ET
A New York State judge has refused to invalidate same-sex marriages performed in the village of New Paltz earlier this year but is preventing officials from officiating at any more unions for couples who do not have marriage licenses. State supreme court justice Michael Kavanagh ruled that the couples would have to be named parties to the case with the right to be heard in court and that the lawsuit failed to do that. Matthew Staver, head of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, said Thursday his group plans to name the couples and try to have the marriages invalidated. "We will proceed to do that," he said.
More than 200 same-sex marriages have been performed in the Hudson Valley village this year, with clergy presiding now at about a dozen every other week, said E. Joshua Rosenkranz, attorney for Mayor Jason West. "Whether other people could waltz into court and invalidate the marriages of scores of complete strangers, that's where the battleground was in this case," Rosenkranz said. "So far the litigation against same-sex marriage is hitting the wall on every front."
The suit before Kavanagh comes from village board member Robert Hebel and the Liberty Counsel, framing a broad legal challenge to same-sex weddings that have been performed in New Paltz since West, a member of the Green Party, began publicly officiating them February 27. "The court agrees that the couples whose marriages petitioner seeks to be declared void are necessary parties to this proceeding and are entitled to be heard on this issue," Kavanagh ruled. "Petitioner's failure to name all of these parties is fatal to his challenge." While the names of 25 couples initially married by West were made public, Rosenkranz said there's no single repository for all the names since.
The suit sought to bar village board members Julia Walsh, Rebecca Rotzler, and Michael Zierler from performing same-sex weddings and asked Kavanagh to declare invalid the appointment of Rotzler and Walsh as marriage officers. The Liberty Counsel argued that performing marriages with the knowledge that the couples did not have marriage licenses violated New York law. While letting the appointments stand, the judge said he's "inclined" to permanently bar village officials from marrying unlicensed couples. Kavanagh had signed such a temporary restraining order June 24. Municipal clerks have declined to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, in accordance with state health department guidance. Several pending lawsuits in the state supreme court are challenging the state ban on the issuance of licenses to same-sex couples.
Meanwhile, misdemeanor charges against two Unitarian ministers and West for marrying gay couples without licenses have been dismissed in New Paltz town court. Patricia Perez, attorney for Walsh and Rotzler, said those decisions by town justices Jonathan Katz and Judith Reicker "call into question licenses being unconstitutionally withheld from same-sex couples." In his latest ruling, Kavanagh said he has already considered that argument. The judge also had sharp words about New Paltz officials presiding at same-sex weddings after his June 7 injunction stopped West. He called it "a rather transparent attempt" by the village board majority to "circumvent" his ruling. "The village board would be well advised not to engage in similar conduct in the future," he wrote.
Staver said there are about 40 pending lawsuits nationwide over same-sex marriage and that Liberty Counsel has intervened in the New York cases and about 25 others "to defend the validity of marriage laws that preserve marriage as one man, one woman." The group has not sued clergy, he said: "We haven't made any plans to sue private individuals. Our focus at this stage is to focus on the governmental officials."
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