Elevate Difference

One Summer in New Paltz: A Cautionary Tale

Weddings always tug at my heartstrings, but there is nothing quite as heartwarming as hearing people sing in the streets. The Whos in Whoville taught me that.

The name New Paltz may ring a bell. It is a small college town in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York State that gained national attention in 2004 when the town’s twenty-six-year-old mayor, Jason West, married two dozen same-sex couples, an idea that was the result of a conversation between West and a local same-sex couple during a house painting project. As a consequence, charges were brought up against the mayor, crowds and cameras flooded New Paltz, and copycat weddings and demonstrations began to occur far and wide.

One Summer in New Paltz is framed around the concept of a fairytale. In the beginning, a voice-over describes New Paltz as a little village in a large kingdom (the United States) ruled by a powerful king (George W. Bush), and continues throughout to speak like the narrator of a Brothers Grimm story. This is perhaps one of the only aspects of the film that does not quite hit the mark. It is clearly intended to bring us back to traditional storytelling elements and present the story in a simplified manner, but the half-rhymes and dreary tone fall flat, and the device feels corny as a result.

If you’re looking for a debate on the morality or legality of gay marriage, this film is not going to provide it. However, if you are looking for a close look at the events that followed West’s decision, a taste of what went on beyond what made it onto the news, and to hear people who defend their lifestyles and their support of gay marriage with class and poise, you’re looking in the right place. In one tense yet powerful scene from the film, the town is paid a visit by members of the congregation of Westboro Baptist Church (a Kansas-based group known for their neon “God Hates Fags” signs and for screaming the word “perversion”) who shout slurs at gay marriage supporters. In response, the group is met by a chorus of “All You Need is Love.”

Part of the beauty of this story is the unlikely setting of such a monumental stand against precedent. The shots of New Paltz and the nearby Catskill Mountains show nothing spectacular, which is of course the most important message of all: change can start anywhere.

Written by: Kelly Palka Gallagher, March 23rd 2010