Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order Against New Paltz Mayor Jason West Ordering him to Stop Illegally Solemnizing Same-Sex Unions

Mar 5, 2004

Village of New Paltz, NY – Today Judge Vincent Bradley with the Ulster County Supreme Court in New York issued a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) that ordered Jason West, the 26-year old part-time Mayor of New Paltz, NY, to stop solemnizing same sex “marriages.” The TRO 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 and West appeared in criminal court on Wednesday, March 3. Prior to the criminal court hearing the Mayor appeared on several national television programs stating that he had an “obligation” to break the law, and that regardless of the criminal charges, he has no intentions of stopping his illegal conduct. Immediately after the arraignment, he left the courtroom shouting at the top of his voice that this was a civil rights issue and he would continue to perform same-sex marriages, regardless of the Attorney General’s opinion stating he had no authority and regardless of any criminal charges he faced.

Staver commented, “Knowingly disobeying the law is not a game. The Mayor took an oath to uphold the law of New York. He has knowingly and deliberately violated that plain and unambiguous law. We are pleased that the rule of law has returned to New Paltz.” Staver concluded, “All Mayors throughout the United States should be on notice. Attempts 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.”