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Mayor: Gender irrelevant in marriage

Jason West, mayor of New Paltz, New York.
Jason West, mayor of New Paltz, New York.

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(CNN) -- Jason West, mayor of New Paltz, New York, faces criminal charges for solemnizing same-sex marriage in his village in violation of the state's constitution. Wednesday morning, he talked to CNN anchor Bill Hemmer about his actions.

HEMMER: You will be in court later today. How will you plead?

WEST: Not guilty. I've done nothing but uphold my oath of office, to uphold our state constitution.

HEMMER: You'll fight this on what grounds?

WEST: Well, on the grounds that our state constitution requires equal protection for all New Yorkers and our domestic relations law is silent on the issue of gender. It's clear that our constitution requires this. I took an oath of office to uphold that constitution. As a matter of fact, it's the Department of Health here who is violating the law in discriminating in terms of who they issue marriage licenses to.

HEMMER: You mentioned the word gender there -- in reading article 3, section 12, it describes a husband and wife. Explain how your position is different from this in state law?

WEST: Actually ... there's a list of marriages that are voidable in New York State, including for example, you can't marry close relatives. That is a section that explicitly lays out who cannot be married. Same-sex couples are not on that list, and I am going to stand by our state constitution's requirements for equal protection.

HEMMER: Let me parse some words here, husband and wife, that does not say genders to you? That does not say man and woman to you?

WEST: I think that's irrelevant. I think the most important thing here is the equal protection clause of our constitution.

HEMMER: How far are you willing to go on this? Would you go to jail for it; or knowing it's just a misdemeanor at this point, would you ever go that far?

WEST: That's something I'll have to discuss with my lawyers. I would like to mention that this morning the mayor of Nyack, New York, another village, has announced his intention to solemnize these marriages, so this is going to continue. I plan to continue on Saturday here in the village of New Paltz. Mayor [John ] Shields is going to begin in the village of Nyack. And hopefully we'll have other mayors stepping up around the state.

HEMMER: Let me understand this, about 1,000 same-sex couples ready to go this weekend, is that right in your town?

WEST: No, we're going to do a limited number -- a dozen or two. We're a small village. We can't handle thousands of people coming here. We have over 1,200 couples on our waiting list and we do ask anyone who is wanting to be married to please go to our Web site and get on the waiting list there. We're doing no walk-in marriages.

HEMMER: It's your intention, despite what happens in court, to continue with the marriages this weekend?

WEST: That's my intention, yes.

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