December 13, 2012

Town of Madison may end Town Office marriages

Gay-rights advocates call the timing 'unusual,' but the town manager says 'we just don't have enough time.'

By RACHEL OHM Morning Sentinel

MADISON – The town is considering a new policy that would prevent couples from getting married in the Town Office.

Same-sex marriage will become legal in Maine on Dec. 29, but Town Manager Dana Berry said Madison's proposal is unrelated to the new law.

Selectmen plan to discuss the proposed policy at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

"I don't want to have marriage ceremonies in the Town Office because it's distracting and detracts from the normal operations of the town's employees," Berry said. "We just don't have enough time, and that's the only reason."

David Farmer, spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, which campaigned to pass the citizens initiative on gay marriage last month, said the timing of Madison's proposal "is a bit unusual, but as long as they are treating everyone the same and providing marriage licenses to all couples, I think it is a decision that is within their right to do."

Farmer said it usually takes about 20 minutes to get a marriage license, while a ceremony can take another 30 minutes to an hour.

"I can see how (not performing marriages) might be a reasonable policy in a small town," he said.

Old Orchard Beach Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin, the president of the Maine Municipal Clerks Association, said the state recommends that municipalities have policies on marriage ceremonies.

She said the only people who are authorized to conduct weddings in Maine are notaries public, lawyers admitted to the Maine Bar Association, and clergy members.

Maddy Pierce, Madison's deputy town clerk and tax collector, said she is the only person in the Town Office who is licensed to conduct marriage ceremonies because she is the only notary public.

She said she conducts only a couple per year in the Town Office, during breaks or after office hours.

"It has nothing to do with my position in the town and doesn't interfere with my work during office hours," she said.

McLaughlin said Old Orchard Beach has an unwritten policy not to perform marriage ceremonies, because it would take a source of income from notaries in town.

"We have never performed marriage ceremonies. We probably should have a written policy so that everyone is on the same page, but I don't believe it is required," said McLaughlin, who has been town clerk for 12 years.

The city of Augusta does not perform marriage ceremonies, while Waterville does, during regular business hours for a fee of $75.

Waterville City Clerk Patti Dubois said the city doesn't plan to make any changes to its marriage policy before same-sex marriage becomes legal.

Skowhegan has no policy on marriage ceremonies. Town Clerk Gail Pelotte said she has worked in the Town Office for 17 years and recalls a notary performing a marriage ceremony there just once.

"We don't have a policy and I don't see a need for one. No one ever asks to get married here," she said.

She said, "I think people, whether they are a same-sex couple or a bride and groom, already have in mind what they want to do. It's a very joyous event, especially for same-sex couples that have waited a long time to get married, and I would think most people plan something more special than going to the Skowhegan Town Office."

 

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

rohm@mainetoday.com

 

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