It’s been over a decade now since New Paltz Mayor Jason West solemnized marriage vows for more than two dozen same-sex couples in the Peace Park on Feb. 27, 2004. And while the state never sanctioned the marriages, many of the participants that day have said that the ceremonies were an important step for civil rights that helped lead the way for New York’s Marriage Equality Act that took effect in July of 2011.
Last week, on the tenth anniversary — to the day — of the 2004 ceremonies, a public forum was held at Village Hall to remember the remarkable chain of events that brought New Paltz into the international spotlight. A packed house, equally divided between men and women, shared their memories of the experience a decade ago. There was celebration of the strides made in marriage equality since then and concern voiced about what the future holds for same-sex couples who want a marriage legal in every state in the country.
The evening opened with welcoming remarks from Jay Blotcher, who exchanged vows with spouse Brook Garrett in the 2004 ceremonies officiated by West. Blotcher, now legally married to Garrett, noted the milestones in marriage equality that have occurred since then. “Ten years ago, same-sex marriage was banned in 49 of 50 states,” he said. “Today, same-sex couples have the right to marry in the District of Columbia and in 17 states.”
A screening of I Now Pronounce You Husband and Husband, a 20-minute documentary about the New Paltz ceremonies, was introduced by its director, former Vassar student Stephanie Donnelly.
Following the film, Mayor West and a panel of experts on the topic of marriage equality fielded questions from an enthusiastic audience. The panel included Jan Whitman, board president of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center; Mariko Hirose, an attorney for the New York Civil Liberties Union; and Cathy Marino-Thomas, former executive director and board president of the New York branch of Marriage Equality USA, of which she is currently a board member.
West appeared visibly moved after viewing the film. He said that despite the ordeal of going through the aftermath of the events — “a very surreal, surreal time,” he noted, which included months of intense attention from press worldwide and regular death threats against him — it was all worth it.
“That was one of the best days of my life,” he said.