Embracing Equality Evolution

Ten years to the day that would make him an icon of the Gay Rights Movement, Mayor Jason West is still able to recall the emotional experience he initiated.

“Sorry I’m a little choked up,” West said. “That was one of the best days of my life.”

On Feb. 27, more than 75 people gathered in New Paltz Village Hall to celebrate the anniversary of the same-sex marriage ceremonies that were performed in New Paltz Peace Park by West in 2004. West would illegally perform the marriage ceremonies of 25 same-sex couples in New Paltz that day, defying law for what he believed to be “a civil right.”

Jay Blotcher, who with his partner Brook Garrett were among the first couples married by West a decade ago, opened the event. His speech set the tone for the theme of the discussion that would continue throughout the night.

“It’s pretty amazing what has been accomplished in those 10 years,” Blotcher said. “It seems like every day something new happens. We decided to celebrate what was accomplished, but also look at what still needs to be accomplished. There’s still more to do.”

Before topics of the future were discussed, however, the event took a glimpse of the past. The event featured a showing of “I Now Pronounce You Husband & Husband,” a documentary by Vassar alumna Stephanie Donnelly. Donnelly said the film was a testament to the rapid progress of marriage equality seen since 2004.

“I made this movie while I was still in college in 2010,” Donnelly said.  “It shows how a lot of progress can be made over time.”

After watching the documentary, West recalled the whirlwind of media he and other members of the New Paltz community experienced after the first day of the ceremonies.

“It was a very, very surreal time,” West said. “It was a team effort. I got most of the press and honestly more than I should have. There must have been 500 different interviews and appearances done in the first three months after the ceremonies took place.”

West was joined by several other advocates for LGBTQ rights for a panel discussion after the film. President of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center Jan Whitman, Attorney for the New York Civil Liberties Union Mariko Hirose and former national co-president of Marriage Equality of New York Cathy Marino-Thomas talked about their thoughts on what the future looks like for LGBTQ-identified people in the United States.

Though she said the future looks bright for same-sex marriage, Marino-Thomas said the separation, or lack thereof, between church and state is what holds the U.S. from more rapid progress.

“This country has lost sight of what the Founding Fathers meant in our Constitution,” she said. “It’s bigger than marriage equality. We need to remind people that the Founding Fathers were looking out for us. They may not have been thinking of same-sex couples before they went to bed at night, but they thought to make room for all people.”

Hirose said although there has been a large amount of progress made during the past decade, the fight for LGBTQ equality does not stop with marriage equality.

“We still have a ways to go,” Hirose said. “Even though we will win the fight in marriage, which I’m sure we will, we need to also focus on making a safer and more accepting environment for all LGBTQ people.”