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10th anniversary of same-sex marriages marked in New Paltz

NEW PALTZ – More than 70 people turned out to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the historic New Paltz same-sex weddings Thursday night at New Paltz Town Hall.  Many of the attendees were couples who were married by Mayor Jason West in 2004.

On February 27th a decade ago West solemnized vows for more than two dozen couples in Peace Park before same-sex marriage was legalized in New York State in July of 2011.

West recalled thinking he would just perform a few ‘marriages’ but people kept coming for an hour-and-a-half to two hours. By the end, there were 1,500-2,000 spectators gathered as well as news crews. But it was the first legal marriage he performed that showed him the point.

“It was a five minute ceremony, they kept it simple,” West said.   “They’d already been together for 20, 30 years. But the normalcy of it struck me as the whole point of having to go through the hundreds of cameras for a few months 10 years ago.”

Student filmmaker Stephanie Donnelly showed her documentary entitled “I Now Pronounce You Husband and Husband.”

West was joined on a panel of speakers by Jan Whitman, president of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, Mariko Hirose, attorney for the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Cathy Marino-Thomas, former national co-president of Marriage Equality of New York.

The focus of the panel was where to go from here. Here’s Hirose:

“The issue that is being decided by courts right now is the issue of whether other states have to recognize the validity of marriages entered into in states like New York,” Hirose said, explaining some of the current issues around same sex marriage.

The decade since West was threatened with charges for performing same sex marriage ceremonies has seen the end of the Defense of Marriage Act, the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

On Wednesday a bill in Arizona that would have allowed private businesses to use religious beliefs as a reason to deny services was vetoed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer, after days of intense pressure from both sides.    

Also on Wednesday, a federal judge struck down Texas' ban on same-sex marriages.  The Texas issue pertains more to benefits for same-sex couples, but the ruling could pave the way for changes in state law.