Nancy Nicol

One Summer in New Paltz, A Cautionary Tale

© 2008 Intervention Video Inc. (54 min., DVD)
Directed and Produced by Nancy Nicol


Set against a backdrop of the Bush administration’s policy of endless war and assault on civil liberties, One Summer in New Paltz is a cautionary tale of a young mayor of a small village who decided to do the unthinkable.

Life was good in the peaceful village,
its charm was almost mythic
nestled in the misty hills far away from the city traffic,
far away from the guns of war.

 Life was fine for Jeffrey and Billiam,
the days passed pleasantly by.
But one thing tinged their life with pain
They longed to do the unthinkable.
And then one day they thought,
maybe things could change!


“Fairy tales take us into a world where taboos may still be in force but where transgression is the motor of the plot.”

Tatar, Maria. Grimms' Fairy Tales.
New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987.

In February 2004, President George W. Bush called for an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to enshrine a heterosexual definition of marriage. His announcement ignited a wave of civil disobedience same-sex marriages across the United States. Within days of the President’s announcement, Jason West, the 26 year old mayor of the village of New Paltz, New York, decided to use his power as mayor to marry same-sex couples. As news of the mayor’s decision spread, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples converged on the village of New Paltz asking to be put on the list to be married. On February 27, West performed 25 same-sex marriages on the steps of the New Paltz village hall.  A few days later, he was arrested and charged with 24 counts of solemnizing a marriage without a license (each count carries a sentence of one year). Facing a possible 24 years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines for performing the marriages, as well as threats of removal from office by the New York State governor, West was forced to stop performing the marriages.

But, with hundreds of couples remaining on the list, the political momentum was such that the  marriages continued to be performed, first by two local ministers, and later by dozens of clergy from various faiths who converged on the village of New Paltz from across the state. The New Paltz Equality Initiative, composed of townspeople and students from the local campus, sprang up overnight to continue the marriages and support the mayor’s legal battle, dubbing the movement in New Paltz “The Summer of Love”. And so, the weddings continued throughout the summer and fall.

As the Iraq war continued to claim more lives both at home and abroad and the economy tanked, for many who participated in the civil disobedience same-sex marriages the President’s call for an amendment to the Constitution to take away the rights of a minority while at the same time calling on US citizens to fight and die in a war on the basis of defending democracy and freedom, was deeply cynical. Inspired by New Paltz and San Francisco, (where Mayor Gavin Newsom had started performing same-sex marriages on the steps of City Hall in early 2004), civil disobedience same-sex marriages spread across the country from New York City to Seattle, Washington. Following in Jason West’s footsteps, clergy and same-sex marriage supporters in New York City, performed three same-sex marriages on the steps of City Hall and called on others to engage in similar civil disobedience same-sex marriages across the state. Their statement read:

“We are all aware that issues of injustice loom around us: war-making with no end in sight, increased unemployment, poverty, hunger, homelessness, failed educational reform, homeless queer youth, and discrimination against same-sex couples in marriage… Now the President claims that the sacredness of marriage is contingent upon the couples being composed of two people of the opposite sex.  As religious leaders, we are here to say that discrimination is not what our faith teaches us.  Rather, justice and freedom for all people is our central message.”

Opponents of same-sex marriage and of lesbian and gay rights in general converged on the village of New Paltz. The Rev. Fred Phelps and his supporters, a fundamentalist Christian-right fringe, arrived to picket the village churches, denouncing local clergy for their participation in same-sex marriages. In response, New Paltz townsfolk lined the streets of the village to defend the young mayor and their gay and lesbian neighbours, and clergy and congregations came out on the steps of their churches singing hymns to drown out the hate-filled chants of the religious-right protesters.

On May 17, 2004, the state of Massachusetts began to perform same-sex marriages, in compliance with a high court decision that stated that to deny same-sex marriage violated the state constitution. The day fell on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. the Board of Education, a landmark victory of the African American civil rights movement against segregation. Black civil rights leaders joined with same-sex marriage supporters to celebrate as same-sex couples flooded into Boston’s city hall. But just as same-sex marriage licenses were beginning to be issued, Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney, enforced a 1913 law to bar out-of-state gays and lesbians from coming to Massachusetts to be married. The 1913 law had originally been passed to bar inter racial couples from out of state from coming to take advantage of Massachusetts more liberal marriage laws. George W. Bush responded to the Massachusetts same-sex marriages by calling once more for an amendment to enshrine a heterosexual definition of marriage in the US Constitution as the only means by which “the people” could defend marriage against the “arbitrary decisions of activist judges.” 

In the run-up to the November election, Bush supporters and same-sex marriage opponents organized ballot initiatives to defend ‘traditional’ marriage across the United States, helping to secure a Bush victory by the slimmest of margins. And while Bush’s attempt to amend the Constitution failed, the state by state backlash against same-sex marriage succeeded in banning same-sex marriage in most states across the United States.



One year after he was charged, all charges against Jason West were finally dropped. The 1913 Massachusetts law, originally used to bar inter racial marriage, continues today to bar out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying in Massachusetts. Since most states ban same-sex marriage, only couples from Rhode Island or New Mexico can marry in Massachusetts.

In July 2006, New York courts ruled that same-sex marriage is not required by the New York State constitution. One year later, the New York State Assembly voted to legalize same-sex marriage, but the Senate blocked passage of the bill.

302 couples married in New Paltz in 2004.Their marriages remain unrecognized.

Principal Credits

Producer / Director:  Nancy Nicol

Composer: Alyssa Ryvers

Director of Photography: Michelle Handelman

Editor: Nancy Nicol

Supervising Editor: Ricardo Acosta

Additional Camera:  Gregory Bray & Niknaz Tavakolian

Location Audio: Vincent Baker & Gregory Bray

Artwork and Animation: Grace Channer, Ba’thari Productions Inc

Writing, Research and Narration: Nancy Nicol

Research Collaboration: Miriam Smith

Sound editing:  Jakob Theisen, Kitchen Sync, Toronto

Sound Mix: Dustin Harris, Kitchen Sync, Toronto

On-line Editor: Andrew Mandziuk, Fearless Films, Toronto

Funded in part by: The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada


This video is currently short listed for the Derek Oyston CHE Film Prize, for One Summer in New Paltz, a Cautionary Tale, 23rd London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, British Film Institute, London, UK. (award to be announced in April 2009)