West’s Role in Weddings Was Wrong, Court Rules

West's Role in Weddings Was Wrong, Court Rules

by Paul Ertelt
Ottaway News Service
peottaway@aol.com


Albany – Jason West exceeded his authority as New Paltz mayor and undermined the principle of separation of powers when he married gay and lesbian people, a state appeals court ruled yesterday.


West performed 24 same-sex weddings last year even though the village clerk refused to issue licenses for such marriages. Village Trustee Bob Hebel sued, and state Supreme Court Justice Michael Kavanagh ordered West not to solemnize any more marriages without a legitimate license.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision, saying the issue is not whether the state's marriage laws are constitutional.

"This case is about orderly government," the court said, noting that a public official has no right to disregard a law he feels is unconstitutional.

West had argued that the constitution compelled him to treat everyone the same when it came to marriage and drafted his own documents for the same-sex weddings.

In doing so, West usurped the state Legislature's authority to determine the requirements for a binding marriage, the court said.

Allowing West to continue would have meant "permitting a part-time local official to effectively amend the laws of this state with input from neither the Legislature nor the courts," the court said.

The court even went so far as to cite the Federalist Papers, the intellectual basis for the U.S. Constitution, which stated that concentration of power in a single person or group is "the very definition of tyranny."

The court did not declare the same-sex marriages West performed invalid nor did it rule on the constitutionality of the state's marriage law, noting those issues will be resolved with other cases making their way through the courts.

Neither West nor Hebel returned calls seeking comment yesterday.

The court noted that the case has statewide implications, but it also has attracted national attention. Hebel was represented by Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian law firm based in Florida, and West was represented by Heller Erhman, a San Francisco law firm.

Heller Erhman also defended West against criminal charges stemming from the same-sex marriages. Those charges were dropped.

http://www.recordonline.com/archive/2005/10/28/jason28.htm

To see a .pdf file of the decision:
http://decisions.courts.state.ny.us/ad3/Decisions/2005/97432.pdf