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Same-sex couples denied marriage licenses in New York City

Same-sex couples denied marriage licenses in New York City

Dozens of same-sex couples lined up for marriage licenses in the nation's largest city but were turned away Thursday morning, even as officials in other towns in New York State vowed to continue defying long-accepted laws against such permits. Couples who came to the New York City clerk's office were handed thick envelopes explaining that local law prohibits gay marriages, based on a ruling a day earlier from the city's top lawyer. "We're disappointed, but we think it's important for people to come here," said Mara Gottlieb, 33, who was first in line with partner Camille Gonzalez, 38. "We want the politicians to know that this isn't going away." Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to enforce the law, and state attorney general Eliot Spitzer also said Wednesday that gay weddings are illegal, though one small-town mayor has conducted gay marriages and another plans to try to issue licenses. Mayors and county officials in California, New Mexico, and Oregon have also allowed same-sex marriages since the wedding march began February 12 in San Francisco. In Portland, Ore., county officials issued 422 licenses to gay couples Wednesday and prepared for more Thursday. Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski and others have questioned the legality of the licenses, saying the state's 1863 marriage statute suggests that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. But their words did little to deter the long line of gay and lesbian couples waiting to pick up marriage licenses Wednesday. "This means we finally get to enjoy what every other married couple takes for granted; it means we finally get to enter that world also," said Mary Li, a county employee who was first to get a license. A group of pastors and conservative lawmakers, dubbed the Defense of Marriage Coalition, announced they would challenge the county's decision in court or on a future ballot initiative. In New York, the attorney general said current state law prohibits same-sex weddings but that he would leave it to the courts to decide if that law is constitutional. "I personally would like to see the law changed but must respect the law as it now stands," Spitzer said in a statement. He also broke new legal ground by stating that same-sex couples legally married elsewhere, such as Canada, would be considered legally married in New York. Both sides of the polarizing issue had been waiting for Spitzer's opinion since last Friday, when the mayor of New Paltz, a college town 75 miles north of Manhattan, officiated at the weddings of 25 same-sex couples. That mayor, Jason West, now faces 19 criminal counts and could face jail time. West appeared in town court Wednesday and pleaded not guilty. Outside the courthouse about 200 supporters cheered and sang. "I think that he is a patriot, and I think he's a civil rights leader," said Mike Katz, a student at the State University of New York. "We're making history here." West said he will conduct another 10 to 20 marriages this weekend, but village trustee Robert Hebel said he intends to seek a temporary restraining order Thursday to stop West from marrying any more same-sex couples. Edward Farrell, director of the New York Conference of Mayors, said mayors who told him they had considered performing ceremonies for same-sex couples have changed their mind since Spitzer issued his opinion. "Part of a mayor's oath of office is to uphold the laws of the state of New York, and the attorney general made it clear that same-sex marriages are not authorized under the law," Farrell said. New York and Oregon are among 11 states without laws explicitly defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The legal action against the New Paltz mayor prompted the head of a conservative group to demand that California attorney general Bill Lockyer file criminal charges against San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. "He's setting an example of anarchy for the entire nation," said Scott Lively, head of the Pro-Family Law Center. "He does indeed deserve to be arrested for these crimes." But West and Newsom may also have inspired John Shields, the openly gay mayor of Nyack, N.Y., who said he would lead a group of same-sex couples Thursday morning to the clerk's office to apply for marriage licenses. "If we are denied, we will file a class-action suit against the government for denying us our rights," he said. Town supervisor Thom Kleiner has said that licenses would not be granted.

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