Support and Thanks Rally
for Judge Katz
on his favorable decision
Regarding Mayor West and Same Sex Marriages!
T O D A Y
Village of New Paltz Courthouse
25 Plattekill Ave.
JUSTICE COURT : TOWN OF NEW PALTZ
STATE OF NEW YOUR : COUNTY OF ULSTER
People of the State of New York
Jason West, Defendant
HON. JONATHAN D. KATZ
The Defendant is the mayor of the village of New Paltz charged with solemnizing marriages for individuals who had not obtained marriage licenses.
By Notice of Motion dated March 24, 2004, the defendant has moved to dismiss the Information charging him with multiple counts of the crime of solemnizing marriages without licenses in violation of sections 13 and 17 of New York's Domestic Relations Law (DRL). The essence of his argument is that the DRL licensing requirement is unconstitutional as applied because it has the effect of preventing same-sex marriages. If unconstitutional, then the information charging under that section is defective within the meaning of Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) section 170.35 (1) (c), requiring its dismissal. CPL 170.30 (1) (a). In the alternative, the mayor asks for dismissal in the interests of justice, arguing that even if guilty there would be no just purpose served by his criminal conviction.
The people have expressly taken no position regarding same-sex marriage. The prosecution's principle argument is that this case presents only the simple question of whether the defendant violated DRL 13 and 17 by solemnizing marriages for people who had not been issued marriage licenses, a fact that is not in dispute. Nor is there a dispute over the fact that had they applied for licenses they would not have received them for the singular reason that the applicants were same-sex.
Town courts have jurisdiction to dismiss criminal charges on the grounds that the law defining the violation charged is unconstitutional. People v. Waterloo Stock Car Corp., 89 Misc.2d 922, 392 N.Y.S.2d 839 (1977); People v. Merksarner, 139 Misc.2d 987, 529 N.Y.S.2d 941. CPL 170.30 (1) (a); CPL 1.70.35 (1) (c). The defendant's dismissal motion is authorized by CPL 170.30 (1) (a); CPL 170.35 (1) (c) as a way of challenging the constitutionality of DRL 17. The determination of the constitutionality of DRL 17 is both "necessary and unavoidable." People v. Furlong, 129 Misc.2d 938, 494 N.Y.S2d 653, later proceeding 70 N.Y.2d 756, 529 N.Y.S.2d 749 (1987).
Cultural and political attitudes about homosexual rights and same-sex marriage are evolving rapidly. No recent act of the legislature suggests a policy favoring any form of discrimination against homosexuals or same-sex partnerships. The New York Attorney General has questioned the constitutionality of current New York law which denies marriage to same-sex couples. See, NYS Attorney General, Informal Opinion Number 2004-1, dated March 3, 2004. Ulster County Supreme Court Justice E. Michael Kavanagh has acknowledged the constitutional implications of denying marriage licenses to individuals based on sexual preference in his as yet unpublished decision in Robert Hebel v. Jason West. In his June 7, 2004 decision, Judge Kavanagh issued a permanent injunction stopping the defendant from performing marriage ceremonies for people without marriage licenses, but did not reach the constitutional question. No New York court has addressed the constitutional implications of the denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the context of criminal prosecution. However, recent court decisions and legislative enactments addressing related issues leave no doubt that New York policy favors ameliorating the discriminatory effect of current laws (or the lack thereof) on homosexuals. For example, the New York Court of Appeals has said that a "realistic and valid" view of family "includes two adult lifetime partners whose relationship is long term and characterized by an emotional and financial commitment and interdependence." Braschi v. Stahl Assoc. Co., 74 N.Y.2d 201, 211, 544 N.Y.S.2d 784, (same sex partner is a family member for purposes of rent controlled apartment). The Court of Appeals interprets our adoption laws to allow for the possibility of the biological parent's same-sex partner to adopt her child. Matter of Jacob, 86 N.Y.2d 651, 668, 636 N.Y.S. 716, The Appellate Division, 4th Department, has held that a lesbian couple has standing to adopt, notwithstanding the fact that DRL 110 lists only unmarried adults, or a husband and wife, as people that may adopt. Matter of Adoption of Carolyn B., CAF 03-01032, Appellate Division, 4th Department, March 24, 2004. The majority opinion held that the sexual orientation of the proposed adoptive partens to be irrelevant. A surviving spouse from a seme-sex Vermont Civil Union is a "spouse" entitled to bring a wrongful death action under New York Law. Langen v. St. Vincent's Hospital of New York, 196 Misc. 440, 765 N.Y.S.2d 411. Same sex partners are entitled to compensation resulting from the loss of their partners on Spetember 11. The New York State legislature has adopted sweeping legislation directed to discrimination against homosexuals. Civil Rights Law 313; Insurance Law 2701; Penal Law 240.30(3), 485.05(1). While, perhaps not exhaustive, the foregoing establishes that the policy of New York is to outlaw discrimination based upon sexual preference. Courts in New York addressing the issues of whether a same sex partner is a spouse for the purpose of exercising his right of election against his partner's will, or a spouse for the purpose of bringing a wrongful death acton, or whether a same-sex partner has the right to adopt children, acquire his partner's rights to a rent controlled apartment, or receive benefits available to those who lost a spouse on September 11, have acted to accord same-sex partners the same rights as if they were married. Evein fo the financial issues could be addressed ins ome comprehensive way short of allowing same-sex partners to marry, there would still be no emotional substitute for marriage. The equal protection issue raised by the defendant is real and must be addressed as a threshold issue to his prosecution.
This equal protectiona nalysis is governed by the "rational basis standard". Cooper v. Kelly, 187 A.D.2d 128, 133, 592 N.Y.S.2d 797, 799-800 (Second Dept. 1993). The question, therefore, is whether there is a legitimate state purpose in prohibiting same-sex marriage. The prosecution neither defends nor condones the discriminatory effect of the licensing requirement of the DRL. Its position is simply tha tthe law - on its face - was violated obligating it to fulfill its mandate to prosecute. The net effect of the lack of proof is that this record contains no evidence tending to show that there is a legitimate state interest in refusing marraige to same-sex partners. Likewise, the Attorney General did not exercise its right to intervene in this case to defend the state's interest in a statute that has the effect of preventing same-sex couples from marrying. If the state had a legitimate governmental purpose in preventing same-sex couples from marrying either the cief law enforcement officer of Ulster County or of the State of New York could have taken this opportunity to articulate it. The defense has rebutted the presumption of constitutionality enjoyed by DRL 13 shifting the burden of proof on that issue to the People.
I am familiar with the arguments raised in the cases from other states addressing this issue and I understand the histyorical, cultural and religious oppostion to same-sex marriage, but find that none of the reasons stated in opposition to same-sex marriage is paramount to the equal protection guarantees enshrined in the state and federal constitutions. In dismissing the Information charging the mayor with violating DRL 12, 17 I heed the admonishment of Justice Brandeis that "We must be ever on our guard lest we erect our prejudices into legal principles". New York State Ice Company v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 311, 52 S. Ct. 371.) Based on the foregoing, the defendant's motion todismiss is granted.
This constitutes the order and decision of the court.
Dated: New Paltz, New York.
June 10, 2004
i just typed that whole thing, so excuse any typos.