New York is no stranger to making history. In 2004, the Village of New Paltz was thrust into surprising international focus when its mayor defied the law to make a statement.

Then-Mayor Jason West garnered international attention when he married 25 same-sex couples, years before those marriages were allowed in New York, and before the Defense of Marriage Act was found unconstitutional.

What You Need To Know

  • Former New Paltz village mayor made history when he married two dozen same-sex couples, years before it was allowed in New York 

  • The story made national and international headlines

  • Former mayor is now energy manager for the City of Albany

“The debate … kind of a separate-but-equal debate,” said West, who was 25 when he was elected mayor in 2013. “You know, marriage wasn't good enough for the LGBTQ community, ‘but maybe we can give them civil unions.’ So I thought that that wasn't good enough.”

So he and his team stepped forward to change the record, or perhaps write their own chapter that would forever cement New Paltz's name in the fight for marriage equality.

“At first, we were thinking we'd just do a little political theater, do like summer weddings, everyone in gowns and tuxedos, and flowers and musicians and the whole nine yards, and ‘let’s just make a couple weddings to make the point,’ “ West said.

But it had to start somewhere.

“In the summer of 2003, I found four who were willing to brave the spotlight,” he said. “I found a lawyer to represent us all pro bono, so it didn't bankrupt the village. And then in February of 2004, just after a few weeks after President [George W.] Bush used the State of the Union to say that marriage should be federally one man and one woman, it felt like we just couldn't wait ‘til summer, and we had to do something now.”

Two dozen same-sex couples were married in a packed parking lot outside New Paltz's village hall. Their marriages came seven years before they were made legal in New York State, and helped shift locals’ attitudes from the nationwide debate playing out on TV to something real in their community.

“I mean, think about it,” West said. “You're in a relationship for years and years, and marriage is not an option for you. So there, you got a conversation: ‘Oh wait, are we, do you want to,’ you know, you know, ‘let me call my mom; should I talk to her?’ You know what's going on? So I think there was a lot of soul searching in for a lot of people on a lot of different angles of this.”

In a documentary produced by Vassar College students about the marriages, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, now governor of California, was mentioned as an inspiration to Mayor West. Did he inspire the effort?

“No, he just beat me by two weeks,” West said. “We were planning this whole thing, and then Gavin Newsom starts issuing marriage licenses two weeks before we were gonna pull the trigger. Totally deflated some of our momentum. We were gonna be the first.

“It was very exciting. Obviously, the fact that there was a little bit of a race to do these kinds of things at the turn of the century does show that history was on our side then, as have events that have unfolded since.”

Just because places like San Francisco and even quaint New Paltz were pushing for equality, it'd take years and some major legal battles to make it happen, even for West.