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Mayor barred from gay marriages

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A New York State judge barred the mayor of a college town yesterday from performing more same-sex marriages for a month, saying he was ignoring his oath of office.

Lawyers for the city of San Francisco, meanwhile, defended the more than 3,600 gay marriages sanctioned there, arguing to the California Supreme Court that nothing in the state constitution requires local officials to obey laws they believe infringe on the civil rights of their citizens.

Justice Vincent Bradley of New York issued a temporary restraining order against the mayor of New Paltz, Jason West, at the request of the Florida-based Liberty Council, which acted on behalf of a local resident.

"The mayor in substance ignores the oath of office that he took to uphold the law," Bradley said. West, 26, insisted he was upholding his oath of office to uphold the constitution.

"But in our system of constitutional government, judges have the last word," West said in a prepared statement. "I intend to fully abide by the judge's decision. And I am considering legal options."

The ruling came as Governor George Pataki of New York said the state is ready to crack down on any official who performs a wedding without a marriage license. West performed his first spate of 25 same-sex marriages a week ago in his village, which is about 75 miles north of New York City and includes the State University of New York at New Paltz.

San Francisco's lawyers were responding to efforts by the state attorney general and a Christian public interest law firm to invalidate the 3,632 same-sex marriages that have been sanctioned in the city during the last three weeks. City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed briefs arguing that municipal authorities are "independently responsible" to uphold the US Constitution.

The California Supreme Court had ordered the city to respond to a pair of petitions asking for a prompt judicial declaration on the legality of the same-sex marriages, but the justices have not indicated when they might rule in the case.

Those seeking to shut down San Francisco's gay marriages, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, and the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, argue that an existing section of the California Constitution prohibits "administrative agencies" of the state from declaring laws unconstitutional on their own.

In Oregon, meanwhile, a lawsuit was filed yesterday by the Defense of Marriage Coalition two days after officials in Multnomah County began sanctioning gay marriages. The group contends that county commissioners violated the state Public Meetings Law by agreeing privately among themselves to change county policy. The group also argues that Oregon law clearly defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

"We would rather have a debate through the democratic process, but we were not given that choice," said Kelly Clark, an attorney for the coalition.

The coalition, organized by Republicans, appeared to get support from Governor Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat who said a debate on gay marriage was needed. In his State of the State address, he asked Oregonians to "step back and take a deep breath and give the process a chance to work." Kulongoski also noted he expects a legal opinion soon from Attorney General Hardy Myers of Oregon.

Also yesterday, lawmakers in Wisconsin and Kansas pushed ahead with efforts to amend their states' constitutions to ban gay marriage, while a similar measure died in Idaho.

The proposal approved by the Wisconsin Assembly, 68 to 27, would prohibit same-sex marriages and civil unions. It now goes to the state Senate. More approval from lawmakers and voters also would be required for it to become law.

In Kansas, the House voted, 88 to 36, for an amendment to ban gay marriages and the granting of benefits associated with marriage to other relationships. It would need a two-thirds vote in the Senate and majority in the November election to become part of the constitution.

The Idaho proposal, which would have banned gay marriages, failed on a 20-to-13 vote to come out of committee. Amendment opponents emphasized during the debate that the state had already passed a law in 1996 banning gay marriage.

Fourteen states are seeking this year to amend their constitutions to ban same-sex marriages.

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