Charges Tossed Vs. Gay-Marriage Ministers

A judge threw out charges Tuesday against two Unitarian Universalist ministers for officiating at the weddings of 13 gay couples.

New Paltz Town Justice Judith Reichler dismissed the charges against the Revs. Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey, declaring that the state had displayed an anti-gay bias and sharply questioning the constitutionality of its gay marriage ban.

"There can be no constitutional rationale for denying same-sex couples the right to receive the benefits that are so lavishly bestowed on mixed-sex couples," she wrote.

Greenleaf and Sangrey, both in their 60s, were charged in March with officiating at weddings in which the couple had no valid marriage license.

The two women were believed to be the first members of the clergy prosecuted in the United States for marrying gay couples.

Sangrey said the ruling affirmed constitutional protections for gays and called proposals for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage "shameful and alarming."

The women's attorney, Robert Gottlieb, also praised the judge's ruling as a "wonderful, well-reasoned, unbelievable opinion."

"Every rationale the government has put forward, she has shot down," Gottlieb said.

Ulster County Assistant District Attorney John Rusk had argued that the case was not about the constitutional rights of gay couples but simply about whether the ministers violated state law by marrying couples who did not have marriage licenses.

But Reichler said the two issues are "inextricably intertwined" and ruled the charges were invalid.

Reichler rejected the state's reasoning that tradition and procreation justified restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

"Tradition does not justify unconstitutional treatment. Slavery was also a traditional institution," she wrote.

And, since elderly and infertile couples are allowed to marry, Reichler ruled that procreation cannot be used as grounds to stop same-sex unions.

Last month, another judge dismissed the same criminal charges against New Paltz Mayor Jason West, saying the state failed to show it has a legitimate interest in banning same-sex weddings.

New Paltz Town Court Justice Jonathan Katz also ruled that prosecutors failed to prove the law that West was charged with violating was constitutional.

State officials, including Gov. George Pataki, have said same-sex ceremonies violate state law.