ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – A prosecutor dropped all charges Tuesday against a small town mayor who could have faced up to a year in jail for marrying gay couples on the steps of the village hall.
New Paltz Mayor Jason West, then 26, was among the first public officials in the nation to marry same-sex couples, following San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in February 2004.
He had been charged with 24 misdemeanor counts of violating the state’s domestic relations law after marrying about two dozen gay couples in ceremonies that drew national attention to the village of about 13,000 residents 75 miles north of New York City.
Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams said Tuesday he dropped the charges because he believed a trial would be unnecessary and divisive.
West called the decision a “complete vindication” and said the district attorney had been “wasting taxpayer money for 18 months.”
Gay weddings swept the country starting in San Francisco in early 2004, when Newsom flung open the city’s wedding registry to gay couples. While officials in other locations were ordered to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, Massachusetts’ highest court ruled that same-sex couples were able to tie the knot in that state.
In California, the quest to legalize gay marriage was revived Tuesday by a Senate committee that approved the measure after it was slipped into a fisheries research bill. It had earlier been rejected by the state Assembly.
West has maintained he was upholding the gay couples’ constitutional rights to equal protection _ and thus his oath of office _ by allowing them to wed.
Top state officials, including Gov. George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, have said same-sex ceremonies violate state law. A number of cases filed on behalf of gay couples testing that interpretation of state law are winding their way through courts.
Williams had earlier dropped similar criminal charges against two Unitarian ministers who wed gay couples in New Paltz after West was sidelined by a civil suit.