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The mayor of New Paltz, N.Y., who made international headlines for solemnizing gay marriages Thursday provoked a sharp rebuke from an appellate panel that accused him of flagrantly ignoring legislative directives and usurping a judicial role by deciding for himself that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. “Simply stated, in an effort to interject his beliefs about an area of constitutional law that is unsettled and has divided courts that have addressed similar cases, [the mayor] overlooked that his actions implicated a core constitutional tenet; that is, the separation of power,” Appellate Division, 3rd Department, Justice John A. Lahtinen wrote in an anger-laced opinion. The court in Hebel v. West, 97432/97433, steered clear of addressing the constitutionality of New York’s ban on same-sex marriage — that exact issue is before the same panel that decided Thursday’s case — and made plain that “[t]his case is about orderly government” and not constitutional precepts. “[W]e note that the issue of whether this State must, under the constitution, offer marriage to same-sex couples is currently pending in appeals from cases properly presenting that issue to this Court, and the decision in those cases will control whether the marriages of these couples may become legally cognizable,” Lahtinen wrote. The case decided Thursday is rooted in Mayor Jason West’s solemnization of 25 same-sex marriages on Feb. 27, 2004. Although the town clerk had refused to issue marriage licenses to the couples, West, a part-time house painter, adapting what he described as an “independent view of the law,” decided that he was constitutionally barred from refusing to solemnize the nuptials, performed the marriages and issued a press release stating his intention to conduct more. A village trustee, Robert Hebel, filed an Article 78, culminating in a permanent injunction imposed by Supreme Court Justice E. Michael Kavanagh. While the restraining order was in effect, the New Paltz village board, by a split vote, designated two people as “marriage officers,” and those people continued to solemnize same-sex marriages. ‘DEFINITION OF TYRANNY’ The mayor and village board appealed and the dissenting trustee attempted to turn the case into a showdown on the constitutionality of Domestic Relations Law. But the 3rd Department would have none if it. It bluntly said the case was one of a local official far overstepping his bounds, and nothing more. It quoted Federalist Paper No. 47 in observing that an attempt by anyone to grasp legislative, executive and judicial powers is “the very definition of tyranny” — and strongly suggested that is precisely what West did. “Here, West robed himself with judicial powers and declared the marriage laws of this State unconstitutional,” Lahtinen wrote. “Having concluded that the Legislature violated the constitution, he then wrapped himself with that body’s power and drafted his own set of documents for licensing marriages… . Having arrived at his own constitutional conclusion, West deemed it unnecessary to seek judicial intervention before disregarding Domestic Relations Law.” Presiding Justice Anthony V. Cardona and Justices Thomas E. Mercure, Anthony J. Carpinello and Carl J. Mugglin were also on the panel. The same five judges on Oct. 17 heard three cases challenging New York’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages (Samuels v. Department of Health, 98084, Kane v. Marsolais, 98151, and Seymour v. Holcomb, 98204). In each of those cases, the lower court had upheld a law that seemingly reserves marriage to heterosexual couples. Appearing in Hebel were John C. Ulin of Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe in Los Angeles for the mayor and Rena M. Lindevaldsen of Liberty Counsel in Longwood, Fla., for Hebel. Ulin declined comment. Lindevaldsen said the decision, by sidestepping the constitutional issues, leaves in question the status of the same-sex marriages conducted in New Paltz. “It is frustrating for us to see that something they said the mayor had no authority to do would be allowed to stay in place,” Lindevaldsen said. “The marriage licenses [West] issued are left in limbo right now. Are they valid, are they not?”

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