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Archive for Saturday, March 6, 2004

N.Y. judge bars mayor from performing weddings

San Francisco lawyers argue case in court

March 6, 2004

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— A New York state judge on Friday barred the mayor of a college town from performing more same-sex marriages for a month, saying he was ignoring his oath of office.

Lawyers for the city of San Francisco, meanwhile, defended the more than 3,600 gay marriages sanctioned there, arguing to the California Supreme Court that nothing in the state constitution requires local officials to obey laws they believe infringe on the civil rights of their citizens.

New York Justice Vincent Bradley issued a temporary restraining order against the 26-year-old mayor of New Paltz, Jason West, at the request of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, which acted on behalf of a local resident.

"The mayor in substance ignores the oath of office that he took to uphold the law," Bradley said.

West insisted he was upholding his oath of office to uphold the constitution.

"But in our system of constitutional government, judges have the last word," West said in a prepared statement. "I intend to fully abide by the judge's decision. And I am considering legal options."

San Francisco's lawyers were responding to efforts by the state attorney general and a Christian public interest law firm to invalidate the 3,632 same-sex marriages that have been sanctioned in the city during the past three weeks. City Atty. Dennis Herrera filed briefs arguing that municipal authorities were "independently responsible" to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

The California Supreme Court had ordered the city to respond to a pair of petitions asking for a judicial declaration on the legality of the same-sex marriages, but the justices have not indicated when they might rule in the case.

In Oregon, meanwhile, a lawsuit was filed Friday by the Defense of Marriage Coalition two days after officials in Multnomah County began sanctioning gay weddings. The group contends that county commissioners violated the state Public Meetings Law by agreeing privately among themselves to change county policy. The group also argues that Oregon law clearly defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

"We would rather have a debate through the democratic process, but we were not given that choice," said Kelly Clark, an attorney for the coalition.

The coalition, organized by Republicans, appeared to get support from Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who said a debate on gay marriage was needed. In his "state of the state" address, he asked Oregonians to "step back and take a deep breath and give the process a chance to work."

Kulongoski also noted he expects a legal opinion soon from Oregon Atty. Gen. Hardy Myers.

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