Judge Issues Permanent Injunction Against New Paltz Mayor Jason West Ordering Him to Stop Illegally Solemnizing Same-Sex Unions

Jun 7, 2004

Village of New Paltz, NY – Today Judge E. Michael Kavanagh with the Ulster County Supreme Court in New York issued a Permanent Injunction that ordered Jason West, the 26-year old part-time Mayor of New Paltz, NY, to stop solemnizing same sex “marriages.” The Injunction was issued in a lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Robert (Bob) Hebel, a member of the New Paltz Board of Trustees. Mr. Hebel is represented by Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, and Rena Lindevaldsen, Senior Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel.

On February 26, 2004, Mayor West announced he would solemnize marriages of same-sex couples. On February 27, West solemnized the “marriages” of 25 same-sex couples. He then created an “Affidavit of Marriage” and a “Contract of Marriage” that he posted on the Village’s web site. He said he was issuing these documents “in lieu of a Certificate of Marriage” because the town clerk refused to issue a license. By March 1, the website created a “Marriage Waiting List,” with the next ceremonies scheduled for Saturday, March 6. West, who is a member of the Green Party, thought it was “funny” that he had provoked a fight, concluding, “This is the best day of my mayoral career.”

New York law states that parties to a marriage must “solemnly declare” that “they take each other as husband and wife.” A marriage license must include a “statement or affidavit” containing information from the “groom,” who is also called the “husband” and the “bride.” It is a criminal misdemeanor for any person to solemnize a marriage “without a license being presented to him,” and violations are punishable with a fine of not less than $50.00 or by imprisonment up to 1 year. On March 2, Donald Williams, Ulster County district attorney, charged West with a 19 count indictment for illegally solemnizing same-sex marriages without a license.

Judge Kavanagh’s decision stated, “The impact of [Mayor West’s] position, that an elected official may willfully violate a law anytime he or she believes it is unconstitutional, has profound and unsettling implications. This view, if accepted, would mean that the Mayor is a law unto himself and would in certain circumstances have power that is simply incompatible with a democratic form of government based on the rule of law.”

Staver commented, “Knowingly disobeying the law is not a game. The Mayor took an oath to uphold the law of New York. He knowingly and deliberately violated that plain and unambiguous law. We are pleased that the rule of law has returned to New Paltz permanently.” Staver concluded, “All mayors throughout the United States should be on notice. An attempt to disregard the plain law of the land by elected officials should be viewed for what it is – illegal activity that must be brought to justice.”