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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 21:35 GMT
Mayor charged over gay weddings
Jason West presides over a gay wedding in New Paltz
Jason West presides over a gay wedding in New Paltz
A New York mayor who made headlines for marrying gay couples has been charged with committing an offence.

Jason West, mayor of New Paltz, faces 19 counts of solemnising marriages without a licence.

But he has vowed to go ahead with plans to marry a further 24 gay couples this coming weekend.

And a second New York mayor John Shields says he will start marrying gay couples - and wants a licence himself to marry his same-sex partner.

But New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has now intervened to say the state's laws do not permit gay marriage.

"I know gays and lesbians want marriage and I respect their commitment to each other and I personally support their desire," Mr Spitzer said, adding that he had to put the law, "ahead of my personal views or political considerations".

Election issue

Mr West married 25 couples in a festive atmosphere in New Paltz, about 80 miles (130km) north of Manhattan, on Friday, but faces 19 charges because that was how many weddings were witnessed by police.

He said the ceremonies were "legal" even though the state defines marriage as between a man and a woman and none of the couples had marriage licences.

A lesbian wedding
Gay weddings have become a hot issue across the US
Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams, who charged Mr West, said he could face a fine of up to $500 or up to one year in jail - but that he would not press for a prison sentence.

Mr West reportedly has about 1,000 couples on his waiting list.

Gay marriage has become a major issue that could play a large part in the forthcoming presidential election.

President George W. Bush last week called for a constitutional amendment that would ban the practice.


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