December 31, 2012

Litchfield same-sex couple disappointed that town staffers didn't perform marriage ceremony

Rich Hirschmann, 56, and Richard Acker, 57, received a marriage license at Town Office Monday, and claim they were told two notaries on staff 'are shy about things like this'; there's no state requirement for notaries to perform marriages

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

A gay couple were disappointed Monday morning when they asked to be married at the Litchfield Town Office and were turned away, though the town clerk and deputy town clerk are authorized to perform weddings.

The incident, described as a misunderstanding by the clerks, occurred on the third day that gay couples were able to wed in Maine since 53 percent of voters approved same-sex marriage in November.

Gay rights advocates and others say the incident shows that municipal officials and others who are notaries public must review and define their wedding policies to avoid discrimination and possible violations of the Maine Human Rights Act.

Rich Hirschmann, 56, and Richard Acker, 57, say being turned away from their Town Office was shocking and hurtful.

"It made me feel less than human," Hirschmann said. "Like our rights don't count."

Shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, the town clerk's office in rural Litchfield, near Augusta, issued a marriage license to Hirschmann and Acker, who have lived together for three years.

However, when the men asked if one of four women working in the clerk's office was a notary public who could marry them, as is the case in many municipalities, their hopes of tying the knot on Monday were dashed.

They say a part-time deputy clerk took them aside and explained that two notaries worked in the office, "but they're both shy about things like this," Hirschmann recalled Monday afternoon.

"She chose her words carefully, which gave the distinct impression that it wouldn't be an issue for heterosexual couples," Hirschmann said. "She said we could talk to (the two notaries), but she made it clear that it wouldn't do any good."

The clerk gave them the names of two notaries in the Litchfield area who would marry them. The two men left the Town Office and drove to work at their Maine-themed gift shop, Portland Rock Lobster, in Portland's Old Port district.

Most municipalities employ a few notaries to administer oaths of office, witness official proceedings and endorse legal documents. Maine law also allows notaries to perform marriages, but it's not a requirement.

Doris Parlin, Litchfield's town clerk, said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon that she didn't realize the two men wanted to get married.

As a notary, Parlin said, she officiates one or two marriages each year, but she generally avoids the practice because she has a soft voice.

"It's not something we do very often," Parlin said. "I really don't like to marry people. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware they wanted to get married."

Asked if she was reluctant to perform gay marriages, Parlin said she wasn't, "but I can't say I believe that's what marriage should be."

Trudy Lamoreau, Litchfield's deputy town clerk, also is a notary. She said she stopped officiating weddings a year ago and has never married anyone at work.

"It's nothing personal," Lamoreau said. "I just stopped doing weddings."

Lamoreau strongly denied that her decision was influenced by personal feelings about gay marriage.

Lezley Sturtevant, a part-time deputy clerk, is the person who advised Hirschmann and Acker on the availability of a notary to marry them.

Sturtevant said she spoke with the two men because Parlin and Lamoreau were busy.

"Our lobby was right full of people," she said in a telephone interview.

Sturtevant didn't mince words when explaining the likelihood of anyone getting married at the Litchfield Town Office.

"Our notaries don't perform marriages," she said.

Maine law requires all municipal clerks to issue marriage licenses to legally qualified couples or they face as much as a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. Many clerks also are notaries.

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