WASHINGTON - March 3 - Yesterday, Ulster County District Attorney Donald A. Williams filed 19 misdemeanor charges against New Paltz Mayor Jason West for solemnizing same-sex marriages. Today, Mayor West will appear in court and plead not guilty. If found guilty, the mayor faces a fine up to $500 per violation and up to two years in jail.
Statement by Matt Foreman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director:
"New Yorkers should be outraged and embarrassed by Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams bringing criminal charges against New Paltz Mayor Jason West for solemnizing marriages for gay and lesbian couples.
Legal experts believe that New York law permits Mayor West's actions. We believe the New York State Constitution compels them. The just and appropriate way to decide this issue is through civil court, not by bringing criminal charges. Clearly, DA Williams is abusing his powers and the criminal justice system by bringing charges purely as a publicity stunt.
We are appalled by his attempt to justify this stunt by saying the state has a 'legitimate interest in requiring marriage licenses to ensure that incestuous marriages are not occurring or to insure a person is not already married.' This is a slap in the face of the committed gay and lesbian couples whom Mayor West has already married and to all gay people.
We might expect such malevolence somewhere else in the country, but not in New York. The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is under attack across the nation by the religious and political right. It's a disgrace that a New York elected official has thrown his lot with them. History will judge District Attorney Williams and the judgment will not be kind."
[Also today in New York, state Attorney General Elliott Spitzer said today that same-sex couples who are validly married elsewhere are legally married throughout the state. Spitzer issued an advisory to local officials saying they should not authorize or solemnize marriages of same-sex couples themselves, though he did not say whether it's constitutional to deny such marriages. But in the first statewide clarification of its kind in the nation, Spitzer made it clear that couples who have legally married in Canada, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, or elsewhere are also married under New York law and must be given all of the rights and protections of marriage in the state.]