Sunday, December 8, 2013
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Richard Acker, left, and Rich Hirschmann were turned away when they asked to be married by town clerks in Litchfield, two of whom are notaries public. They said a clerk told them that the two notaries were “both shy about things like this.”
Kelley Bouchard / Staff Writer
The Secretary of State's Office issued a written advisory in December, explaining the rights and responsibilities of notaries under the new marriage law, whether they work independently or for municipalities. A notary can refuse to perform marriages, the advisory said, because Maine law doesn't require notaries to perform them.
"But if they make a practice of marrying people and they refuse to marry a couple because they're gay, they could be subject to a discrimination claim under the Maine Human Rights Act," said Barbara Redmond, deputy secretary of state.
A discrimination claim also can be filed if a notary refuses to marry a couple because of a person's race, physical or mental disability, religion, creed, age, ancestry or national origin.
Redmond declined to comment on the Litchfield case as described by a reporter. She said she had heard no similar complaints since gay marriage became legal.
Mary Bonauto, a Portland lawyer who works with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said this is a watershed period in Maine marriage law that likely will lead to some confusion, disappointment and possible violations of Maine's civil rights law.
"From this point forward, (notaries) get to decide what their policy will be," Bonauto said. "Inevitably, there's going to be a learning curve."
If a notary works as a municipal clerk, there really is no learning curve.
"If cities or towns perform marriages, they have to perform marriages for everyone," said Ian Grady, spokesman for EqualityMaine. "Many towns are going through the process of deciding whether they will offer this service."
Grady said Maine has more than 20,000 notaries public, many of whom are eager to perform same-sex marriages.
"We can help people find someone to marry them who is willing and supportive," Grady said.
For Rich Hirschmann and Richard Acker, the disappointment of their first attempt to get married will take a while to wear off. As new business owners, they had hoped to start the new year as a married couple, Acker said.
They're not sure whether they will take any legal action.
"We're just kind of reeling right now," Hirschmann said. "We didn't think this would happen in our town."
Both men were surprised to be turned away from a town office where they had registered to vote, paid taxes, bought dog licenses and registered vehicles numerous times without incident.
The experience was particularly offensive to Hirschmann, a retired career Navy officer and a former Portland firefighter and paramedic.
"I worked for the government my whole life," he said. "I never had the option to say, 'No, I don't want to do my duty because it goes against my political or religious beliefs or because it makes me feel bad.' "
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: