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NYC Mayor Asserts Gay Rights, Supports Civil Unions

The mayor of the nation's largest city says same-sex couples deserve the same rights in civil unions that straight couples enjoy in marriage, but he will continue to enforce New York state's ban on gay marriage.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's statement, reversing his previous refusal to discuss his position on gay marriage, came the same week that dozens of same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses were turned away by the City Clerk, and that state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (searchheld that gay and lesbian marriages are prohibited by state law.

Bloomberg said in an interview that he goes "back-and-forth" on whether same-sex marriages should be allowed, but believes these couples deserve equality.

"Personally, I've always thought that civil unions should have exactly the same rights as marriage," Bloomberg said during the interview, to be broadcast Sunday on WPIX-TV. "I don't think you should discriminate against anybody."

The mayor of New Paltz (search), north of New York City, performed 25 same-sex ceremonies a week ago. Mayor Jason West (searchfaces 19 criminal counts and could face jail time, but agreed to abide by a ruling that temporarily barred him from performing more same-sex marriages.

Still, West's decision didn't stop gay wedding ceremonies from taking place in his village Saturday.

About two dozen same-sex couples gathered under a packed tent in a private parking lot on the village's Main Street to be married by local Unitarian ministers.

Among those getting married were ministers Pat Sullivan and Kay Greenleaf. Greenleaf also performed some of the ceremonies, which ended with the cheers of the two hundred spectators who turned out to witness the event.

Unitarian ministers have been performing gay marriages across the country for years. Saturday's weddings were not legally sanctioned.

In New York City, the gay rights group Lambda Legal said it filed suit Friday in state court seeking the right for same-sex couples to become legally wed.

"This is the whole enchilada," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of the group. "We seek, and intend to win, full marriage for gay and lesbian couples across New York — nothing more and nothing less."

More than 3,600 same-sex marriages have been performed in San Francisco in the last three weeks, and hundreds of gay couples were granted wedding licenses in Portland, Ore., this week.

Bloomberg said during the interview that the word "marriage" had led to much of the controversy surrounding the issue that has arisen since San Francisco began performing gay marriages in February.

"I think the term 'marriage' is what is polarizing people, and as I say, I've gone back-and-forth," Bloomberg said. "I think that is up to the (state) Legislature. In terms of the rights of two people when they get together, that, I think, that should not be a function of their gender."

New York is among 12 states without laws explicitly defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

On Friday, lawmakers in Wisconsin and Kansas pushed ahead with efforts to amend their states' constitutions to ban gay marriage, while a similar measure died in Idaho. The actions came two days after Utah's Legislature agreed to put its own anti-gay marriage amendment before voters.

President Bush is supporting a movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, citing decisions by Massachusetts' top court that prohibiting same-sex marriages would violate that state's constitution. The court rulings cleared the way for full-fledged gay marriages by mid-May.