Wednesday, March 12, 2014
AUGUSTA -- City offices will open for three hours to issue marriage licenses Saturday, Dec. 29, which is the first day same-sex couples in Maine can get married.
City Center would normally be closed that day, but officials decided Tuesday that the city clerk's office would be open from 9 a.m. to noon for marriage licenses only, to accommodate anticipated interest from couples who want to get married the first day the new law allowing same-sex marriage takes effect.
The city received at least two inquiries from gay couples about getting married as soon as they could.
Gardiner's city clerk office will also be open from 9 a.m. to noon that day, city officials said Tuesday.
In many Maine municipalities, couples will have to wait until Monday, Dec. 31, to get marriage licenses, because town and city offices are generally closed Saturdays.
"I consulted with the city clerk, she gave it some thought and decided she could be available to open the office up and issue marriage licenses to anyone who might come in between 9 and noon," said City Manager William Bridgeo. "So that's what we're going to do."
Augusta City Clerk Barbara Wardwell and one other clerk will work that day. They will issue marriage licenses to everyone, not just gay couples.
Before the scheduling change was made, Wardwell said she had received at least one inquiry from a couple who wanted to get married that day. She anticipates more couples than that will come in for marriage licenses that day, but isn't sure how many to expect.
"I'm going with maybe a half-dozen -- that's my guess right now," Wardwell said. "It all depends on what kind of celebration is organized. We'll see."
Bridgeo said he received an email from an Augusta man who wanted to marry his partner Dec. 29.
He said desire of Augusta residents to get married that day is what prompted the change, not a desire to be host to the first same-sex marriage in the state of Maine.
"It isn't about setting any records; it's about trying to accommodate a request from some residents," Bridgeo said. "I'm confident, if a similar set of circumstances existed, city staff would try to accommodate citizens' needs."
He said city officials have briefly opened up city offices on weekends to accommodate residents' requests for records or other needs.
In Massachusetts on May 17, 2004, the first day same-sex marriages were allowed there, the city of Cambridge opened at 12:01 a.m. for dozens of gay couples lined up to fill out their intentions to marry, according to the Boston Globe.
In Augusta, city staff do not perform marriages, Wardwell noted, but will issue licenses that would allow a notary public or other eligible official to marry couples that day. She said there are many notary publics in Augusta.
Ralph St. Pierre, Augusta's finance director and assistant city manager, said Wardwell is a salaried employee, so she won't be paid overtime to work that Saturday morning. Thus, the cost to the city will be three hours of overtime for a second clerk to work with Wardwell.
But the day could also bring the city some revenue that could offset or even exceed the cost of opening. Couples seeking a marriage license pay $40. The state gets $4 and the city gets the remaining $36, according to St. Pierre.
Just the city clerk's office will be open that morning, with the only access through the Arsenal Street entrance to City Center.
Wardwell and St. Pierre said it takes 15 or 20 minutes to complete the application for a marriage license.
Keith Edwards -- 621-5647