Published May 27, 2005
ALBANY, N.Y. – The village mayor who challenged New York law by attempting to marry gay couples last year will face trial, the state's highest court ruled Friday.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, the high court there rejected a Roman Catholic activist's bid to halt gay marriages in that state until after voters have weighed in on a constitutional ban.
New Paltz, N.Y., Mayor Jason West (search) faces 24 misdemeanor counts of violating the state's domestic relations law by marrying couples without licenses in late February 2004. He faces fines and up to a year in jail if convicted.
West's actions came amid a flurry of efforts in various states to wed gay couples after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (search) allowed gay couples there to marry in February 2004. Those efforts have largely been put on hold by the courts.
West has maintained he was upholding the gay couples' constitutional rights to equal protection — and thus his oath of office — by allowing them to wed in the Hudson Valley college town in late February 2004.
But top state officials, including Gov. George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, have said same-sex ceremonies violate state law.
"Mayor West stood up for the constitutional rights of people being treated unfairly and unconstitutionally," said West's attorney, E. Joshua Rosenkranz. "If he is wrong about that judgment, of course he will stand trial and we'll pay whatever penalty and he's prepared to do so."
Before making its decision, the state Court of Appeals refused West's request to first hear arguments on the constitutionality of the state's gay marriage (search) ban. West had argued that the high court should take up the issue now because the case was unique, novel and critical to the state.
But Assistant District Attorney Joan Lamb argued that other cases brought by gay couples are already wending through the court system, and those couples have better legal status to contest the law because it affects their own rights, while West was acting as a public official.
In Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court on Friday rejected a lawsuit by C. Joseph Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, to halt gay marriages in the state until the voters could decide on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The vote could happen in November 2006 at the earliest.
The Supreme Judicial Court, the state's highest court, became the first to authorize same-sex weddings with its landmark November 2003 ruling. The ruling took effect in May 2004.
Doyle had appealed to the full court after a single justice dismissed his claim last year. Justice Roderick Ireland said same-sex couples shouldn't be denied the right to marry based on the possibility that voters would approve the amendment.
"The single justice was correct and well within his discretion" in denying Doyle's request, the high court wrote Friday.