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Attorney General Eliot Spitzer yesterday stepped into the contentious battle over gay marriage, saying that state law does not permit same-sex marriages and that only the courts could decide if such a law is constitutional. Mr. Spitzer, speaking at a press conference at his downtown Manhattan office, said that he personally supports gay couples who would like to marry, but that his office could find no justification for it under state law. Later in the day, New York City’s Corporation Counsel came to the same conclusion in a written letter to the city clerk. The letter came the day before gay couples planned to march to the City Clerk’s Office and request marriage licenses. Other protests were planned near City Hall. In a 28-page legal analysis, Mr. Spitzer’s office found that Domestic Relations Law includes numerous references to “bride and groom” and “husband and wife,” and that the history of the law suggests that legislators intended for marriage to be between one man and one woman. Supporters of same-sex marriage have said that New York’s law is gender neutral and only demands that those entering into marriage both be consenting adults. “Same-sex marriages are not legal,” Mr. Spitzer said. He did say, however, that New York’s law raised important constitutional questions that would ultimately be decided in the courts. The attorney general also said that under his interpretation, New York should recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions that are allowed under the laws of other states. Mr. Spitzer said his office would inevitably be involved in litigation over the statute. A spokeswoman for his office said Mr. Spitzer would be obligated to defend the constitutionality of the statute if it is challenged in a lawsuit against the state or a state agency. Mr. Spitzer said his office’s analysis would normally have taken weeks to formulate, but was done in days because of the rate at which the debate has been gathering speed across the state. In the college town of New Paltz, 26-year-old Green Party Mayor Jason West has married 25 same-sex couples since Friday and has promised more, even though he now faces criminal prosecution. Another upstate mayor, John Shields of Nyack, has said he will soon start officiating at same-sex weddings. And a movement is afoot in Ithaca in which that city’s mayor intends to back those applying for same-sex marriage licenses in an effort to move the issue into the courts. Also yesterday, Michael A. Cardozo, the corporation counsel for New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, issued his own letter rejecting same-sex marriages. “We advise that the City Clerk should continue to apply the provisions of the Domestic Relations Law as written, and deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” Mr. Cardozo wrote to City Clerk Victor L. Robles. Mr. Cardozo’s letter also said that even if state courts were to find the current law unconstitutional, they might simply order the Legislature to address the issue rather than instituting same-sex marriages. Like Mr. Spitzer, Mr. Cardozo declined to address the constitutional issues. Speaking at a press conference, Mr. Bloomberg said he will enforce the law as it was written, and that those who wanted city officials to break the law and approve same-sex marriage licenses should spend their time lobbying the state Legislature. “I think it should be up to the states and I think that people that want to change the marriage laws should go to Albany,” he said, according to a transcript. “That’s where laws are made.” The New Paltz mayor’s attorney, E. Joshua Rosenkranz, a partner at Heller Ehrman and the former president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said he disagreed with the attorney general’s findings. “They call it an opinion for a reason,” Mr. Rosenkranz said. “That’s the attorney general’s opinion and I respect it, but I think he’s wrong.” He added: “The single most important statement is that this is an issue for the courts.” Mr. Rosenkranz said his client would be arraigned yesterday evening on a 19-count indictment and would plead not guilty. He could face up to one year in prison. Mr. Rosenkranz criticized Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams for prosecuting Mr. West, saying the mayor “does not belong in a criminal prosecution any more than Rosa Parks did.” Mr. West was also hit with two lawsuits yesterday from the Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based organization that has been challenging same-sex marriages in other states. The first suit, in Ulster County Supreme Court, seeks to enjoin the mayor from solemnizing marriages without valid licenses. The second, in the Appellate Division, Third Department, seeks to remove the mayor from office for misconduct. Attorney General Spitzer reiterated yesterday that he would not seek an injunction against Mr. West because it would not succeed without a clear irreparable injury. New York is the latest battleground over same-sex marriage. In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsome has ordered that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples. And in Oregon yesterday, officials in the state’s largest county, which includes Portland, said denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples would violate the state constitution. Couples began getting married shortly after the finding. Last week, President George W. Bush called for an amendment to the federal Constitution to ban same-sex marriages.

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