Friday, June 11, 2004

New Paltz Mayor Criminal Charges Dropped 

New Paltz Town Court Justice Jonathan Katz has dismissed criminal charges against New Paltz mayor Jason West. News stories at Advocate, Poughkeepsie Journal, and Washington Post.

The charges stemmed from West's having performed marriage ceremonies for 24 gay and lesbian couples who did not have marriage licenses. Justice Katz issued a 5-page ruling (I haven't been able to locate the original text online - if anyone finds it, could you let me know?) on the matter, in which he cited recent New York court actions recognizing the legitimacy of same sex relationships, and concluded that the state law provisions relied upon by the town clerk in denying the licenses are unconstitutional. From the Poughkeepsie Journal article:

"None of the reasons stated in opposition to same-sex marriage is paramount to the equal protection guarantees enshrined in the state and federal constitutions," Katz wrote in his five-page opinion.

Ulster County DA Donald Williams plans to appeal the ruling. Williams denies that the charges are about same sex marriage, but about marrying couples without a marriage license. But if the couples were of opposite sexes, they would have had no problem receiving marriage licenses, so I don't put much stock in this statement. Interestingly, Williams also stated that he felt the forum for the question of same sex marriage is the civil court or the legislature, not criminal court.

"The question of same-sex marriage should not be tested in the criminal forum," he said. "The appropriate remedies should be tested in Supreme Court, through a mandamus impelling clerks to grant licenses, or through the legislature."

This somewhat explains his apparent need to couch the criminal case in a different framework, but doesn't justify it. Given that West is currently involved in a civil case (and is abiding by a court order barring him from performing similar marriages until the case is resolved), and that couples have filed civil suits against the clerks who refused to issue licenses, I'm wondering why the DA felt it was necessary to pursue these criminal charges which at their base stemmed from the very issue he feels strongly should not be determined in criminal courts. Williams is also continuing with the criminal charges against two Unitarian ministers who performed marriages for unlicensed same sex couples.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 9:41 AM