As Same-Sex Marriage Vote Looms, Ulster County Holds its Breath
by Dylan Taft
on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 at 8:16pm.
As the New York State Senate ponders whether or not to bring to a vote an historic bill legalizing same-sex marriage, Ulster County can be proud of the role we have already played in this history-making debate. In fact, our community first tackled the issue in 2004, well out in front of everyone else on both the state and national levels. For it was back in ‘04 when newly elected New Paltz Mayor Jason West (just 26 at the time) began conducting same-sex unions in an effort to push the issue . . . and managed to push Ulster County right into the national equal rights spotlight.
Birthplace of a Movement
Today, a full seven years later, the controversy still rages on. The initial backlash cost Mr. West his re-election, and charges of illegal actions as an official were officially leveled against him. However West recently won back the office of New Paltz mayor, and for supporters of the cause in Ulster County, the timing was significant and deeply satisfying. Our community has a rich history of support for and activism in gay and lesbian rights. The election of Jason West in 2004, and the subsequent same-sex unions he provided despite public policy to the contrary, were really not about clichés like throwing rice and sailing away on honeymoons. They were, every single union, an act of civil disobedience . . . standing up for what one perceives as an obvious right. No wonder that from then on, New Paltz was considered the birthplace of the gay marriage movement in much of the Northeast.
But even beyond politics, the Hudson Valley has long been a haven for same-sex couples looking for a country refuge, for a launching pad for a new business venture, or simply for a nice place to live. Countless local businesses are owned and operated by gay/lesbian managers, and our gay community continues to flourish in ways political, social, and commercial. As any Ulster County resident can tell you, acceptance of and caring about your neighbor is what guides everyone who lives here. And we’ll fight to keep it that way! Just ask Jason West.