As traditional-family defenders battled to curb the tide of officials challenging marriage laws nationwide, a judge ordered the young mayor of a New York town to stop performing same-sex weddings.
Judge Vincent Bradley of Ulster County issued a temporary restraining order against New Paltz Mayor Jason West in a suit brought by the Florida-based Liberty Counsel.
“We are pleased that the rule of law has returned to New Paltz – all mayors throughout the United States should be on notice,” said Mathew Staver, Liberty Counsel’s president and chief counsel. “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.”
Liberty Counsel also is a plaintiff in a suit to stop San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who instructed his county and city clerk to preside over the first officially sanctioned same-sex marriages in American history Feb. 12.
Yesterday, the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund filed a brief in the California Supreme Court to stop issuance of “illegal marriage licenses” and to provide evidence of the constitutionality of California’s marriage laws.
ADF Chief Counsel Benjamin Bull said a lower-court record is necessary for all the issues to be fully examined.
“The California Constitution does not require that persons be treated similarly if they are, in fact, different,” he argued. “Uncontroversial social science research shows that male-male unions and female-female unions are substantively different. If those unions are different from each other, they cannot both be the same as male-female unions.”
The suit against New York’s West was filed on behalf of Robert Hebel, a member of the New Paltz Board of Trustees.
On Feb. 27, West solemnized the marriages of 25 same-sex couples then created an “affidavit of marriage” and a “contract of marriage” he posted on the village’s website.
The mayor 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 waiting list with the next ceremonies scheduled for today.
West told reporters he thought it was “funny” that he had provoked a fight, concluding, “This is the best day of my mayoral career.”
But on Wednesday, West appeared in court to plead not-guilty to a 19-count indictment brought by Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams.
In appearances on several national television programs, West insisted he had an “obligation” to break the law and had no intention of stopping, regardless of the criminal charges and New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s opinion this week that the same-sex marriages are illegal.
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.”
California’s Supreme Court declined yesterday to make an immediate decision on the state’s request to halt same sex marriages in San Francisco. Spokeswoman Lynn Holton said the earliest the court would decide would be sometime next week.
Opponents want an immediate stop to the same-sex weddings that have sanctioned more than 3,600 homosexual couples, but the city’s attorney, Dennis Herrera, argued no immediate decision is needed because the weddings were doing no harm.
“There is no imminent threat to anyone or anything from the acts complained of here,” Herrera said in a media statement. “No riots have taken place. Not a single opposite-sex couple has faltered in their wedding vows. Only marriage, not anarchy, has broken out in San Francisco.”
But the opponents in California urged the court to follow the lead of Judge Bradley in New York, who in his ruling said irreparable harm obviously occurs when public officials disobey the law.
“If we all did the same,” he wrote, “our world would become far more chaotic than it already is.”
Randy Thomasson, executive director of plaintiff Campaign for California Families, said Herrera’s filing in court yesterday amounted to claiming local governments can disobey any law they think is unconstitutional.
Herrera wrote: “Barring local governments from taking independent actions to conform their conduct to the state and federal constitutions would undermine this system of government.”
“San Francisco has fallen off the planet,” said Thomasson. “So in other words, when an official holds up his hand and swears to uphold the law and do his duty, San Francisco wants the official to put down his hand and do whatever he wants. This is very chaotic. What if every local official could do whatever he wants?”
The case is scheduled for a March 29 hearing on the merits of the state marriage laws.
Thomasson called the case “open and shut,” asserting San Francisco is violating at least 10 laws in the state family code, the penal code and the state constitution.
“The state Supreme Court should have no problem putting a restraining order upon the city of San Francisco to stop these unlawful licenses,” he said. “San Francisco has been breaking the law and turning marriage upside down for more than three weeks now. People are tired of this. The system of law is tired of it too.”
Defense of marriage
Meanwhile in Oregon yesterday, ministers and conservative lawmakers filed a lawsuit to block same-sex marriages in Multnomah County. The Alliance Defense Fund also filed a brief in that case.
The Defense of Marriage Coalition, created after the county began issuing same-sex marriage licenses Wednesday for the first time in state history, contends the county commissioners violated the state public meetings law by privately agreeing among themselves to change county policy, KOIN-TV in Portland reported.
The group, which is considering a statewide ballot measure, also argues Oregon law clearly limits marriage to one man and one woman.
Nearly 800 same-sex couples have been married in the county, which includes Portland.
In a New Mexico county Feb. 20, the clerk issued licenses to more than two-dozen same-sex couples before the state attorney general intervened.
These developments, and many more, followed the Nov. 18 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that homosexual couples are legally entitled to wed under the state constitution and should be allowed to apply for marriage licenses. The state’s legislature has been ordered to come up with a law that complies with the ruling by mid-May.
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