Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Betty Adams firstname.lastname@example.org
LITCHFIELD -- After a same-sex couple was granted a marriage license but denied their request to be married by Town Office notaries on New Year's Eve, selectmen are considering banning marriages at the Town Office.
Richard Acker, left, and Rich Hirschmann were turned away last month when they asked to be married by town staff in the Litchfield Town Office. Town Manager Michael Byron is recommending that selectmen refuse to allow anyone to marry in the Town Office.
Portland Press Herald photo by Kelley Bouchard
"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 at their regular meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Town Office on Hallowell Road.
Byron, who has been town manager for five years, said he does not know when Town Office employees last performed a marriage.
Rich Hirschmann, 56, and Richard Acker, 57, both of Litchfield, asked to be married at the Town Office on Dec. 31 -- the first full business day after a new state law allowing same-sex marriage licenses to be issued took effect. Hirschmann and Acker had asked to be married minutes after filling out a marriage license application there.
They were turned away.
"I think the whole thing was a misunderstanding," Hirschmann said Monday, adding that he understands why the town is looking at adopting such a policy. "It's obviously needed because there's some confusion. There are offices that do it. We didn't realize it was going to be an issue."
However, he said that it did not appear that town staffers were too busy to marry him and Acker on Dec. 31. He saw only three people at the counter, all of whom wanted to register a snowmobile.
"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."
Hirschmann said the couple would have understood better if they were told the notaries were too busy.
Byron, who was not at the Town Office at the time, said that a ban on conducting marriages is more practical for the small office.
"There are three workers in the front office, and they're just overwhelmed daily by their standard duties. For something like (performing a marriage), you have to break off 15, 20, 25 minutes."
He said according to the Maine secretary of state's office, "There is no mandate for any notaries to marry, period."
Byron said town employees referred Hirschmann and Acker to several nonmunicipal notaries in town who perform marriages.
Hirschmann and Acker got a license that day, but amid the confusion they left without paying, Byron said. Hirschmann said Monday he didn't realize the oversight, but would take care of it.
The fee for a marriage license application is $40.
The license is valid for 90 days and the marriage ceremony is on hold, Hirschmann said Monday from Rock Lobster, a Portland gift shop the men recently bought.
"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," Hirschmann 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 received support from people who read about their story 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."
Betty Adams -- 621-5631