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Wednesday, March 03, 2004 - Page updated at 07:44 A.M.
New York mayor charged over same-sex weddings
By Michael Hill
Jason West was charged with solemnizing marriages for couples who had no licenses, a misdemeanor, said Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams.
West could face a maximum penalty of a year in jail, or a fine of up to $500.
The 26-year-old Green Party mayor said that he would plead not guilty at his court hearing today and that he would still go through with his plans to marry as many as two dozen gay couples Saturday.
"I'm incredibly disappointed," West said. "Apparently, it's a crime to uphold the constitution of New York state."
West performed wedding ceremonies for 25 gay couples Friday, making him the second mayor in the country to perform same-sex marriages. It also made this small college town 75 miles north of New York City another flash point in the national debate over gay marriage. More than 3,400 couples have been married in San Francisco, and West has about 1,000 couples on a waiting list.
The prosecutor said his charges do not hinge on whether gay marriage is legal in New York, only that the weddings were performed for couples who did not have marriage licenses.
State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has said he will decide this week whether New York law allows gay marriage. He declined to comment last night on the criminal charges filed against West.
Williams said the misdemeanor complaint lists 19 charges instead of 25 for the number of weddings performed because police at the scene provided eyewitness accounts of only 19 ceremonies.
Gov. George Pataki said that his counsel believes gay marriage is clearly not allowed under the law but that he will await Spitzer's opinion.
"It's clear to me he's breaking the law," Pataki said of West.
Schwarzenegger told Leno that such unions would be "fine with me" if the courts or the voters change state law and make them legal.
"Let the court decide," he said. "Let the people decide."
Previously, Schwarzenegger had sent mixed messages on same-sex marriages, ordering state Attorney General Bill Lockyer to "take immediate steps" to stop San Francisco from allowing them but doing nothing to enforce that directive.
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