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Mayor vows to hold gay marriages

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The 26-year-old mayor of a college village in the Hudson Valley says he'll begin performing gay marriages today, calling it "my moral obligation."

New Paltz Mayor Jason West, who won office last year on the Green Party line, said he intends to marry at least four same-sex couples at a private bed and breakfast. The move could make this village 75 miles north of New York City another flash point in the national debate over gay marriage.

"We as a society have no right to discriminate in marriage any more than we have the right to discriminate when someone votes or when someone wants to hold office," West said yesterday.

"The people who would forbid gays from marrying in this country are those who would have made Rosa Parks sit in the back of the bus."

A bill in the New York Legislature would ban same-sex marriages. Similar bills have died without action in the past. At least 34 states have enacted laws that prohibit gay marriage. President Bush said Tuesday he will back a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

West, whose town is home to a state university campus, said he believes state law gives him the power to marry same-sex couples. The state's attorney general has not ruled on the question.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, applauded the mayor's move. "It's equal rights for gay couples, who should be entitled to equal treatment under the law and to marriage and the protection of the family that heterosexuals have," she said.

Vincent Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School, said nothing in New York law explicitly prohibits same-sex weddings but the framers "clearly were contemplating opposite-sex marriages."

In Iowa, 15 gay and lesbian couples plan to seek marriage licenses in Iowa City today, testing state law that defines marriage strictly as a union between a man and a woman. Johnson County Recorder Kim Painter said she will deny the requests.

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