ACLU Congratulates Same-Sex Couples Married by Mayor Today in Upstate New York

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
February 27, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW PALTZ, NY – Mayor Jason West of New Paltz, New York made his village the first town on the East Coast to perform marriages for same-sex couples this morning. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is advising some of the first couples married, cheered his decision to perform the marriages.

“When two people make the commitment to share each other’s lives for good, they shouldn’t have to worry that in a crisis, they’ll be treated as strangers,” said James Esseks, litigation director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “But that’s what happens when committed couples are denied the right to marry. People get shut out of emergency rooms, kept out of decisions about emergency treatment, and left with nothing when a partner dies.”

“The mayor,” Esseks continued, “took an oath to uphold the New York constitution. The constitution says ‘no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws?.’ That means committed same-sex couples should not be shut out of the protections of marriage. The mayor is simply doing what he is sworn to do: uphold the state’s highest law.”

Lesbian and gay couples began gathering late this morning at New Paltz Village Hall following an announcement by Mayor West’s office that he would begin performing ceremonies at noon. West performed about a dozen marriages today. In San Francisco, city officials have issued more than 3,000 marriage licenses to gay couples since February 12.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and we feel blessed and awestruck to finally see this day,” said Jennifer Smits, an English instructor at the State University of New York. Smits and her partner Dana Wegener, a chef at a local restaurant, married today after eight years together. “Dana and I have been talking about what it would like to be able to marry for four or five years now. We’re not just happy for ourselves – we’re happy for our families, and for all the couples out there who have always dreamed of being able to be married and now may be able to.”

There are 46,490 same-sex couples living in the same household in New York State, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. New Paltz is a village of about 6,000 people and is located about 75 miles north of New York City.

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