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Second New York mayor to marry same-sex couples

Second New York mayor to marry same-sex couples

A second New York State mayor said Wednesday that he will start marrying gay couples and plans to seek a license himself to marry his same-sex partner. Nyack mayor John Shields will join the New Paltz mayor, Jason West, in issuing the licenses. West vowed to go ahead with up to two dozen same-sex weddings this weekend, despite having been charged with 19 criminal counts and possibly facing jail time for marrying same-sex couples. Shields said he will start officiating at weddings of same-sex couples as early as this week and planned to join other gay New Yorkers in visiting municipal clerks' offices Friday seeking marriage licenses. West married 25 gay couples on Friday, making this small college town 75 miles north of New York City another flash point in the national debate over gay marriage. More than 3,400 couples have been married in San Francisco; about 1,000 couples are on a waiting list to be wed in New Paltz. The 26-year-old Green Party mayor said he was motivated by civil rights and "common decency" to join the vanguard of the growing gay marriage movement, along with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. West was to be in court Wednesday night to answer charges that he married 19 couples knowing they did not have marriage licenses, a violation of the state's domestic relations law. He planned to plead innocent. He insisted Wednesday that it is New York's Health Department that is breaking the law by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. "Our state constitution requires equal protection for all New Yorkers," he said on NBC's Today show. "I don't plan to spend time in jail," he said. "I think that the judge before whom this case will be heard will see that the constitution is clear on this, will see that our laws are clear on this, and will see that these marriages are in fact legal." West was charged with a misdemeanor, and the punishment could be either a $25 to $500 fine or jail time. Ulster County district attorney Donald Williams said a jail term wasn't being contemplated at this point. Williams, who does not have the legal authority to issue an injunction preventing the ceremonies, held out the possibility that state officials or the town judge could intervene to stop West from carrying out any more weddings. Williams said the misdemeanor complaint lists 19 charges--instead of 25, for the number of weddings performed--because police at the scene provided eyewitness accounts of only 19 ceremonies. He said he could add counts if West marries more couples.

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