You may have noticed newspaper articles over the past day or two about how the mayor of a small village in upstate New York had begun to follow the lead of San Francisco in performing marriages for gay couples.
You may have wondered why this would happen in a small rural community -- a place presumably more traditional and conservative both socially and politically than the famously liberal city on the Left Coast -- I suppose I could mention the strong trait of independent-mindedness to be found various upstate communities, but in truth I think this is due to the unique population of New Paltz. It is one of those upstate communities (Ithaca, home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College comes to mind) that is centered around a college. In this case, SUNY/New Paltz. My alma mater.
European settlement came relatively early to the Hudson River valley -- I grew up in Kingston, just a short drive from New Paltz. Local historical legend had it that there was a Dutch fur trading post established somewhere around my neighborhood before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. Kingston itself was settled in 1652 and New Paltz was founded in 1677 or '78 by a group of French Huguenots who had taken refuge in the Mannheim area (in what is now Germany) -- an area that was called the Rheinpfalz, a variation of which seems to have been brought with them for naming their home in the New World and pfalz metamorphosed into paltz. The town was founded by twelve families who received a land grant that originally ran from the Shawangunk Mountains (sort of the edge of the Catskills) to the Hudson River. The Village of New Paltz began at the Walkill River -- Huguenot Street, with houses that date to as far back as 1692, is often claimed to be the oldest continuously occupied street in America (the entire street is classified as a National Historic Monument) -- and then gradually grew uphill from the river.
I received my B.A. degree from the state college at New Paltz. I completed course work during fall '65 (actual diploma awarded at the spring '66 ceremonies) and spent the winter and spring terms (New Paltz was on the quarter system -- dividing the year into four quarters, three of which were equal to two semesters in the more traditional arrangement) as a graduate student. In the fall of 1966, as a newly wed teacher (in a small town on the other side of the mountains -- it was an "interesting" commute in winter weather) I moved into an apartment complex in New Paltz near the beginning of Huguenot Street. I lived there for two years, before moving to Monticello, but I continued as a part time grad student at New Paltz (completing the course work for two master's degrees although -- long story told elsewhere -- not receiving either one) until moving to Binghamton to enter into their doctoral program in 1970.
I can recall, during my undergraduate days, an incident where a group of students, having been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, was brought before a local magistrate who, apparently in a very grumpy mood, lectured them that "this was a good town before you college students were here and it will be a good town again after we get rid of you." I always wondered if he meant this particular group of rowdies or if he meant the entire student population. You see, the college can date itself back to the founding of New Paltz Academy in 1833 (actually, I see that they now trace the founding back five years earlier, to the founding of New Paltz Classical School, a local school which then became the state-chartered Academy -- which let them celebrate being 175 years old last year). Shortly after the Civil War, New Paltz Academy was designated by the state to be a teacher's college (called a "normal" school and providing a three-year program of teacher training but not actual four-year bachelor's degrees until the late 1930's) and many years later, following World War II, New York officially organized its various teacher colleges, etc. into The State University of New York and many of them, for the first time, began to offer bachelor degrees that were not in the field of teacher training.
But I wander astray -- how did this small but historic village come to be a companion to San Francisco on the leading edge of social change? I think it probably dates to the change in the voting age from 21 to 18. My first vote was in 1964 when I was 21, but (largely as a result of Vietnam -- if you're old enough for the military you ought to be old enough to vote) the voting age was reduced to 18. That means that the student vote can become the key to electoral victory in college towns, especially ones like New Paltz where there really isn't much there except for the college. If you read the details of the news stories you will discover that the Mayor of New Paltz is 26 years old and was elected to office on the Green Party ticket.
I think it is great. More power to him. And I feel very proud of little New Paltz.
Oh, sure, this is of doubtful legality. (Back when San Francisco first began conducting same-sex marriages I did read something somewhere on some blog -- but I don't intend to try to hunt it down -- that claimed that technically the New York State constitution contains equal protection clauses that might support a contention that laws against same-sex marriage were technically in violation of the state constitution -- but I've seen nothing to indicated that Mayor West was influenced by that or not) However, the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1950's were technically illegal -- but they were morally right.
The time has come.
Both Bush and Kerry are wrong -- Bush is supporting an attempt to pervert the Constitution (not at all unlike the Democrat from Georgia who attempted to add a clause banning interracial marriages some 80 years or so ago) and Kerry is being his typical two-faced (or three-faced?) political hack attempting to be on all sides of an issue.
Three cheers for Mayor West!
Go New Paltz!