Today in Gay History: Mayor Jason West Illegally Married 24 Same-Sex Couples

2.27.2014

By Connor Durkin

Although the marriages were not recognized, the New Paltz mayor married same-sex couples in front of hundreds

This week, the war for LGBT rights wages on in Arizona and Texas and legal cases involving marriage equality are ongoing in several other states. But 10 years ago today, a small-town mayor in New York grabbed national attention by marrying 24 same-sex couples within a few hours.

Mayor Jason West of New Paltz, New York, stood outside of Village Hall, marrying couples between noon and 2 p.m. on February 27, 2004. At the time, the state did not wed same-sex couples, but West's community met his feat with resounding support.

Hundreds surrounded the mayor and cheered for each and every nuptial. Allowing members of the community shifted opinions, according to West, who told New York magazine, "Seeing their own neighbors get married moved people from ambivalence to 'How could I deny that happiness to my neighbors?'"

A retired war-vet, Jeffrey McGowan, and his significant other, Billiam van Roestenberg, were among the first married by West. At the time, van Roestenberg told CNN, "It's just a celebration of love toward one another and to show our family and friends that we're proud and look forward to spending the rest of our lives together."

None of the marriage licenses stuck, however, and not everyone celebrated. For one, the Westboro Baptist Church wasn't too happy, but legitimate consequences also developed. Nineteen misdemeanor charges for, "solemnizing marriages without a license," met West following the event. West plead not guilty to each, and all charges were eventually dropped.

When officiating these weddings, West was only 26 years old. By 2007, he was voted out of office. He later reassumed the position in 2011. His time as mayor hasn't been a walk in the park: West threw a fuss and took a paid leave of absence from his position in 2013 after the Village Board cut his salary.

"Once I hit 14 hours, I will simply stop working and turn on the ‘out of office’ autoreply explaining the situation on my e-mail and voicemail," West emailed his board, according to the New Paltz Times. "This may involve canceling or rescheduling meetings, delayed agendas if I run out of hours before Friday, missed deadlines for grants, my absence at the scene during states of emergencies, etc.”

Even if West is a bit of drama queen today, his actions a decade ago helped propel the gay rights movement into the national spotlight.

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