Friday, October 28, 2005

New York Appeals Court Rules That New Paltz Mayor May Not Solemnize Same-Sex Marriage

Albany, NY – Yesterday the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, ruled that New Paltz Mayor Jason West had no authority to solemnize same-sex marriages. The lawsuit against Mayor West and the Village of New Paltz was brought by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Robert Hebel, a New Paltz Village Trustee. Rena Lindevaldsen, Senior Litigation Counsel of Liberty Counsel, presented the oral argument before the three-judge panel on September 12, 2005.

Last year New Paltz Mayor Jason West prepared his own form and sought to solemnize same-sex unions. Liberty Counsel filed suit, and Judge E. Michael Kavanagh issued an injunction stopping the mayor, noting that marriage in New York is between one man and one woman. Mayor West then appointed Rebecca Rotzler and Julia Walsh – two other Village Trustees – to solemnize same-sex “marriages.” Liberty Counsel filed suit again and obtained another order blocking any Village official from violating the law. The Mayor and the Village appealed the order.

The appeals court sided with Liberty Counsel and ruled that the Mayor and the Village of New Paltz had no authority to violate state law, which authorizes only marriage between one man and one woman. In the opinion, the appeals court stated that the Mayor’s “actions implicated a core constitutional tenet; that is, the separation of power. Here, West robed himself with judicial powers and declared the marriage laws of this State unconstitutional. Having concluded that the Legislature violated the constitution, he then wrapped himself with that body’s power and drafted his own set of documents for licensing marriages. In so doing, he clearly exceeded his role as a village mayor.”

Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, stated: “Renegade mayors and rogue public officials do not have the authority to violate clearly established marriage laws. Preserving marriage is the social battle for this generation. Our social stability hangs on the strength of families. To the extent we weaken marriage and family, we destabilize our communities and damage our children. Law breaking mayors have no right to undermine marriage. The people must decide this issue once and for all by passing state and federal constitutional amendments to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

In the past 18 months, Liberty Counsel has defended almost 40 marriage cases throughout the country. Liberty Counsel is a national litigation, education and policy support organization defending religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family.