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Gay Couple In New York Denied Marriage License By County Clerk

Marriage equality has been law in New York for seven years, but the Montgomery County clerk apparently still hasn't gotten the memo. Now NY Governor Andrew Cuomo is investigating.

Marilyn Drew Necci | August 3, 2018

There are quite a few states in Trump’s America that you might expect a story like this to come from, but it’s safe to say that deep blue New York is not one of them. But it’s true — a town clerk in New York’s Montgomery County denied a marriage license to a same-sex couple this week. And now Governor Andrew Cuomo is investigating.

On Monday, Thomas Hurd and Dylan Toften went to the local courthouse in Root, New York, where they live, to obtain a marriage license. But when they arrived, town clerk Laurel Eriksen refused to process their application. Her official reason was that the two men didn’t have an appointment, and that her office requires them to have one. But, as Town Attorney Robert Subik told The Daily Gazette, that wasn’t the only reason.

“She has a religious objection,” Subik said, “and has referred the matter to her deputy clerk, who has no such objection and will issue the license when they make an appointment.” He also pointed out that they could go to another town. In the comments section of his Facebook post about the incident, Dylan Toften said that the couple had gone to the nearby town of Cobleskill, where they received a marriage license without issue.

Eriksen. Photo by Dylan Toften, via Facebook

Regardless of the resolution to this particular incident, though, Eriksen’s conduct in this matter is still a problem. Same-sex marriage has been legal in New York since the passage of the 2011 Marriage Equality Act. According to the New York State Bar Association’s marriage equality FAQ, “no application for a marriage license may be denied on the ground that the parties are of the same sex. A clerk does not have discretion to deny a license to otherwise qualified applicants.”

It appears that Eriksen has been getting around this particular legal requirement for the past seven years by sending applicants to her deputy clerk, or to other towns in the state. In 2012, Margrethe Lauber and Susan MacLeod of Root also visited the Root town office to obtain a marriage license and were turned away due to their lack of an appointment. “Since we were unfamiliar with marriage licensing protocol because we were denied that privilege for decades, she told us we had to make an appointment, so we did,” Lauber told The Recorder.

Returning on the day of the appointment, Lauber and MacLeod were made to wait for 15 minutes while Eriksen summoned someone, presumably her deputy clerk, to issue the license. “That’s when I knew for sure that she didn’t want to do it, but had to. She had to accommodate us,” Lauber said. Lauber and MacLeod did receive their marriage license that day. Whether Eriksen is ultimately able to prevent anyone from getting married or not, though, she’s still not carrying out her legal duties as clerk. And New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, is not happy about that.

“The denial of a marriage license to a same sex couple yesterday in Montgomery County is an unconscionable act of discrimination that goes against our values as New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Personally I cannot believe that this could happen anywhere in this country, let alone in the State of New York. Marriage equality is the law of the land, and it has been in New York since we were the first big state to pass the Marriage Equality Act in 2011. I am directing an investigation into this incident to ensure that it never happens again.”

As for Hurd and Toften, Cuomo offered to do whatever he could to make it up to them, ending the statement by saying, “I invite them to come to Albany, and I would be happy to offer my services as an officiant at their wedding.”

Top photo via Dylan Toften/Facebook