NEW YORK - The mayor of the nation's largest city says same-sex couples deserve the same rights in civil unions that straight couples enjoy in marriage, but he will continue to enforce New York state's ban on gay marriage.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's statement came the same week that dozens of same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses were turned away by the city clerk and when state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer held that gay and lesbian marriages are prohibited by state law.
Bloomberg, who reversed his previous refusal to discuss his position on gay marriage, said in an interview that he goes "back and forth" on whether same-sex marriages should be allowed but believes these couples deserve equality.
"Personally, I've always thought that civil unions should have exactly the same rights as marriage," Bloomberg said during the interview, which will air today on the New York WB affiliate.
"I don't think you should discriminate against anybody."
New Paltz Mayor Jason West performed 25 same-sex ceremonies a week ago in his village, located north of New York City.
West faces 19 criminal counts and could face jail time but agreed to abide by a ruling that temporarily barred him from performing more same-sex marriages.
Still, West's decision didn't stop gay wedding ceremonies from taking place in New Paltz yesterday.
About two dozen same-sex couples gathered under a tent in a private parking lot on the village's Main Street to be married by local Unitarian ministers.
Among those getting married were ministers Pat Sullivan and Kay Greenleaf. Greenleaf also performed some of the ceremonies, which ended with the cheers of two hundred spectators.
Unitarian ministers have been performing gay marriages across the country for years. Yesterday's weddings were not legally sanctioned.
In New York City, the gay rights group Lambda Legal said it filed suit Friday in state court seeking the right for same-sex couples to become legally wed.
"This is the whole enchilada," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of the group.
"We seek and intend to win full marriage for gay and lesbian couples across New York - nothing more and nothing less."
More than 3,600 same-sex marriages have been performed in San Francisco in the last three weeks, and hundreds of gay couples were granted wedding licenses in Portland, Ore., this week.
Bloomberg said during the interview that the word "marriage" had led to much of the controversy surrounding the issue that has arisen since San Francisco began performing gay marriages last month.
"I think the term 'marriage' is what is polarizing people," Bloomberg said.
"I think that is up to the Legislature. In terms of the rights of two people when they get together, that, I think, that should not be a function of their gender."
New York is among 12 states without laws explicitly defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
The actions came two days after Utah's Legislature agreed to put its own anti-gay marriage amendment before voters.
President Bush is supporting a movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, citing decisions by Massachusetts' top court that prohibiting same-sex marriages would violate that state's constitution. The court rulings cleared the way for gay marriages by mid-May.