A gay couple in upstate New York was denied a marriage license this week by a county clerk who is religiously opposed to same-sex marriage.
Thomas Hurd and Dylan Toften say they went to the Montgomery County Courthouse in Root, New York, to obtain a license, but were turned away by clerk Laurel Eriksen.
“I’m getting married on the 18th [of August],” Toften (below) wrote on Facebook. “I figured I would just hit up the closest town clerk’s office to get the papers. [I] wasn’t expecting there to be an issue.”
He added that if Eriksen—whose husband, Thomas, is Root’s town justice—has a problem with same-sex marriage, she should get another job. “I’ve lived out in this region for a while and I know how people feel about this. But when you take an oath, you are surrendering your views to fulfill that oath.”
Town of Root clerk is a bigot!!!! Refused to do our marriage license. She said make an appointment to have her deputy do…
At first Town Attorney Robert Subik claimed Hurd and Toften were denied a marriage license because they didn’t make an appointment first.
“[Laurel] didn’t process the two men’s marriage license application because they failed to make an appointment with her, as everyone is required by her office to do,” he said in an email to the Daily Gazette. But he added that Eriksen’s religious beliefs also prevented her from fulfilling the request.
“She has a religious objection and has referred the matter to her deputy clerk, who has no such objection and will issue the license when they make an appointment,” Subik added. “The clerks are both part-time and don’t man the office Monday through Friday. Of course, the two men are free to go to another jurisdiction to obtain their license.”
But Melanie Trimble, director of the Capital Region ACLU, told News 10 ABC that’s not acceptable: “That’s unconstitutional in the state of New York. The law clearly states that anybody who wants to get married can, and the clerks are government employees and ought to, therefore, provide services.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo agrees, and is directing the state Division of Human Rights to launch a investigation into the situation. “Personally I cannot believe that this could happen anywhere in this country, let alone in the state of New York,” he said in a statement. “Marriage equality is the law of the land, and it has been in New York since we were the first big state to pass marriage equality in 2011.”
Cuomo called Eriksen’s action “an unconscionable act of discrimination.”
The incident comes just days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a “religious liberty task force” at the Department of Justice. It’s not clear if Laurel Erickson, the clerk who refused the couple, felt emboldened by Sessions but she did return to work as scheduled on Wednesday.
After New York State passed marriage equality in 2011, a clerk in Cayuga County refused to issue a license to a gay couple. Four years, after later the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was guaranteed in all 50 states in Obergefell v. Hodges, officials in several jurisdictions—most famously Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk Kim Davis—denied a marriage license to several same-sex couples. But the incident in Root is the first reported this long after the Obergefell ruling.