Lambda Legal Reaches Settlement on Behalf of Upstate New York Same-Sex Couple Denied Marriage License

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April 11, 2019
Dylan Toften and Thomas Hurd

Lambda Legal reached a settlement late yesterday on behalf of a same-sex couple who was denied a marriage license in upstate New York last year by the town clerk of the Town of Root, who objected to marriage between same-sex couples on religious grounds.

“We feel vindicated and grateful that the Town of Root has realized its obligation to respect our family and all same-sex couples on the same terms as any different-sex couple who wants to marry,” said Dylan Toften. “We are happy the state of New York supports our marriage and that we were able to not allow this one town clerk in our town to get away with violating the law and discriminating against LGBT families.”

On July 2018, Dylan Toften and Thomas Hurd visited the town clerk’s office in the Town of Root, N.Y., about 50 miles from Albany, and the town’s clerk, Laurel “Sherrie” Eriksen, declined to process the couple’s request. The refusal was in violation of New York’s Marriage Equality Act, as well as federal and New York state civil rights laws and constitutional protections.

As part of the settlement, the clerk for the Town of Root read a public statement at last night’s town meeting agreeing to abide by her responsibility to provide marriage licenses to all couples who are legally qualified and without exception, as well as apologizing to Mr. Toften and Mr. Hurd. In addition to the public statement, the settlement includes the payment of $25,000 to the couple and the recognition by the Town of Root that it is the town’s policy for its town clerk to provide marriage licenses to all couples, regardless of sex or sexual orientation.

“We are pleased to reach this settlement with the Town of Root which reaffirms its duty to treat all couples with the same dignity and respect under the law,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Senior Attorney at Lambda Legal. “No government official should be able to refuse to perform their duties because of a constituent’s identity, sex, or sexual orientation. The law recognizes the equal dignity of same-sex couples, and so too must every government official. We hope this serves as a reminder to government officials in every town—no matter its size—that marriage equality is the law of the land and that religious beliefs do not grant a license to discriminate.”

In enacting the Marriage Equality Act in 2011, New York State recognized that the law was ‘necessary for all persons intended to be married in New York State to obtain a marriage license from a town or city clerk in New York State’ and that ‘no application for a marriage license shall be denied on the ground that the parties are of the same, or a different, sex.’

At a town meeting last night, Root Town Clerk Sherrie Eriksen’s made the following statement:

“In my capacity as town clerk, it is my responsibility to provide marriage licenses to all couples, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, so long as they meet all applicable New York State legal requirements. As such, my office, and I personally, will issue marriage licenses to any couple, without exception, who is legally entitled to be issued one. On July 30th of last year, there was an unfortunate incident involving Mr. Thomas Hurd and Mr. Dylan Toften who came to my office seeking a marriage license. I am sorry for any harm or inconvenience my actions caused the couple.”

Handling the matter on behalf of Lambda Legal are Senior Attorneys Omar Gonzalez-Pagan and Jamie Gliksberg, and Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal’s Director of Constitutional Litigation. They are joined by pro-bono co-counsel Gary Gassman, Orly Henry, and Stephanie Nashban of Cozen O'Connor.