- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

NEW PALTZ, N.Y. (AP) — A village mayor was charged yesterday with 19 criminal counts for performing “weddings” of homosexual couples, an act of defiance that thrust the small community into the center of the national debate over same-sex “marriage.”

Jason West was charged with solemnizing “marriages” for couples who had no licenses, a misdemeanor under the domestic-relations law, according to Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams.

Although Mr. West could get up to a year in jail, the prosecutor said a jail term was not yet being considered. Absent jail, punishment for the misdemeanor could run from a $25 to $500 fine.

The 26-year-old Green Party mayor said he will 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 homosexual couples Saturday.

“I’m incredibly disappointed,” Mr. West said. “Apparently, it’s a crime to uphold the constitution of New York state.”

Mr. West performed “wedding” ceremonies for 25 homosexual couples Friday, making him the second mayor in the country to perform same-sex “marriages.” It also made this small college village 75 miles north of New York another flash point in the national debate over homosexual “marriage.”

More than 3,400 homosexual couples have received “marriage” licenses in San Francisco and Mr. West has about 1,000 couples on a waiting list.

Mr. Williams said he still did not know whether Mr. West performed the “marriages” of his own accord or after getting bad legal advice.

“If he’s doing it sincerely out of a moral conviction and out of some naive misunderstanding of the law, then that would enter into the equation,” the prosecutor said.

Mr. Williams said the misdemeanor complaint lists 19 charges — instead of 25 for the number of ceremonies performed — because police at the scene provided eyewitness accounts of only 19 ceremonies. He said more charges are possible.

With Mr. West vowing to perform more such “weddings,” opponents had hoped Mr. Williams would act to stop him. But he said he did not have the legal power to do that, only to file charges after the fact.

Mr. West said the prospect of further punishment does not deter him, adding that the couples inspire him.

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