January 8, 2013

Litchfield may ban weddings at its office

After a gay couple's request is denied, Litchfield weighs allowing no marriage ceremonies at the town hall.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

LITCHFIELD - Selectmen are considering a ban on weddings at the Town Office, a week after a same-sex couple got a marriage license there but were denied when they asked to be married by one of the notaries public in the office.

click image to enlarge

Richard Acker, left, and Rich Hirschmann now plan a wedding in the spring, after their request to be married in the Litchfield Town Office on Dec. 31 was denied.

2012 Press Herald File

"My recommendation is no marriages will be conducted at Town Office by town employees who are notaries," Town Manager Michael Byron said Monday.

Selectmen plan to discuss the proposal Tuesday night.

Rich Hirschmann, 56, and Richard Acker, 57, of Litchfield asked to be married at the Town Office on Dec. 31 -- the first regular business day after the state law allowing same-sex marriage took effect.

They made their request minutes after filling out a marriage license application, and were turned down.

"I think the whole thing was a misunderstanding," Hirschmann said Monday, and he understands why the town is looking at banning weddings.

"It's obviously needed because there's some confusion," he said. "There are offices that do it. We didn't realize it was going to be an issue."

He said it didn't appear that town staffers were too busy to marry him and Acker. He saw only three people at the counter, all of whom wanted to register snowmobiles.

"Really, I think it all boiled down to the response that we got from the clerk we talked to," Hirschmann said. "The answer she gave us didn't sit well with us. She said there were two notaries and they can do it but they were both shy about matters like that."

Byron, who has been town manager for five years, said a ban on all weddings is practical for the small office.

"There are three workers in the front office, and they're just overwhelmed daily by their standard duties," he said. "For something like (performing a marriage), you have to break off 15, 20, 25 minutes."

He said he doesn't know when Town Office employees last performed a wedding.

According to the Maine Secretary of State's Office, "There is no mandate for any notaries to marry, period," Byron said.

He said town employees referred Hirschmann and Acker to several other notaries in town who conduct weddings.

Amid the confusion at the Town Office the day they got their license, the couple left without paying for it, Byron said.

Hirschmann said Monday that he wasn't aware of the oversight but would take care of it.

The fee for a marriage license is $40. The license is valid for 90 days.

Hirschmann's and Acker's wedding is on hold, Hirschmann said Monday from Rock Lobster, a gift shop in Portland the men bought recently.

"Our store is closed right now for renovations," he said. "We're like totally focused on the store. We'll just do it later in the spring and do more of the ceremony and have families there."

Hirschmann said he and Acker, who have been together for three years, were disappointed that their wedding plans were dashed on New Year's Eve.

"It was not a spur-of-the-moment thing," he said. "We had planned on getting married. We weren't looking to go down there and throw a monkey wrench in the Town Office."

Hirschmann said the couple got support from people who read about them in newspapers last week.

"The support from the article was huge," Hirschmann said. "One woman was willing to become a notary public just to marry us. It was really heartwarming."

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

badams@centralmaine.com

 

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