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Charges against pro-gay marriage mayor reinstated

Charges against pro-gay marriage mayor reinstated

Criminal charges against New Paltz, N.Y., mayor Jason West for marrying same-sex couples were reinstated Wednesday by a judge who said public officials cannot pick and choose which laws to obey. Twenty-four misdemeanor counts were filed against West after he married a series of gay couples last February 27 in the Hudson Valley college town of New Paltz. But the charges were dismissed last summer by a town court judge who said there were constitutional problems in banning same-sex marriages. Ruling on an appeal from prosecutors, Ulster County court judge J. Michael Bruhn said the criminal case against West was not about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage but whether West lived up to his oath of office to uphold the law. Bruhn wrote in his decision that under the town court's logic, a mayor may "ignore and flout" a law he believes is unjust or unconstitutional. The case will now go to trial in town court, barring a settlement or a successful appeal by West's lawyers. West faces fines and up to a year in jail if convicted on the misdemeanor counts of solemnizing marriages for couples without a license. New York state officials, including Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer and Gov. George Pataki, have said same-sex ceremonies violate state law. West has maintained he was upholding the gay couples' constitutional rights to equal protection--and thus his oath of office--by allowing them to wed. "If I told those gay couples... 'No, I can't marry you because you're gay,' I'd be violating the state constitution, and I'd be violating my oath of office," West said. His lawyer, Joshua Rosenkranz, said no decision had been made yet on whether to seek an appeal, adding, "I know that Jason West is chomping at the bit to face a jury of his peers." Ulster County district attorney Donald Williams said he was pleased the judge recognized his prosecution was not about gay marriage but "a public official who made a conscious decision to put himself above the law." West was hit with criminal charges shortly after officiating at the marriages of about two dozen same-sex couples. He became the second public official in the nation to marry same-sex couples, following San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and helping to ignite the debate over gay marriage. The criminal charges against West were part of a series of legal actions filed since the gay marriage issue flared up a year ago. Two Unitarian ministers who wed gay couples in New Paltz had similar charges dismissed. West is barred from performing more gay weddings under a civil suit, which he is appealing. (AP)

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