West to Appeal Ruling

New Paltz mayor remains banned from marrying gay couples

by Paul Kibry
Freeman staff

A state appeals court has affirmed the ruling that bars New Paltz Mayor Jason West from performing same-sex weddings.

In a decision on Thursday, a five-judge panel on the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court unanimously upheld a previous ruling by state Supreme Court Justice Michael Kavanagh that barred West from marrying same-sex couples.

West wed two-dozen same-sex couples in February 2004 outside the New Paltz Village Hall, making the small community a flashpoint in the national debate over gay marriage and setting off a chain of legal proceedings.
Jason West
West himself was brought up on criminal charges for presiding over the weddings of couples who lacked marriage licenses, a violation of the state's domestic relations law.

West's attorney, Joshua Rosenkranz, said he will appeal Friday's ruling to the state Court of Appeals. West could not be reached for comment.

The New York Christian Coalition released a statement that cheered Friday's ruling.

"It's refreshing to see that there still remains some common sense within our judicial system," said the Rev. Bill Banuchi, executive director of the grip. "It's clear the mayor overstepped his authority by attempting to be the executive, the judicial and the legislative authority all in one in his town."

Matthew Staver, president and general counsel of the Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm that has challenged gay marriage in court, was quoted in the Christian Coalition statement as saying Friday's ruling proved that "renegade mayors and ... public officials" cannot break the law.

The ruling, which grew out of a lawsuit filed by New Paltz Village Board member Robert Hebel, said West overstepped his authority by marrying same-sex couples.

"West robed himself with judicial powers and declared the marriage laws of this state unconstitutional," the 10-page ruling stated. "Having concluded that the (state) Legislature violated the Constitution, he then wrapped himself with that body's power and drafted his own set of documents for licensing marriages."

Allowing West to continue, the judge wrote, would result "in permitting a part-time local official to effectively amend the marriage laws of this state with input from neither the Legislature nor the courts."

West has maintained he simply was upholding the constitutional right to equal protection, and thus his oath of office, by marrying the same-sex couples.

"It has never been our position that the mayor can just declare an act of Legislature unconstitutional," Rosenkranz said. "The Court of Appeals has long recognized that an Executive Branch official has the right to refuse to comply with a law when compliance would make him violate someone's constitutional rights."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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