Dylan Toften and Thomas Hurd went to the office of the town clerk for Root, N.Y., on July 30 last year to get a marriage license.
They didn’t leave with their license. Instead, they were served discrimination in the name of religion: The clerk said she would not give them a license because of her personal religious beliefs in opposition of same-sex couples getting married.
No, the clerk’s name isn’t Kim Davis, then-county clerk for Rowan County, Ky., who made headlines in 2015 when she refused to do her taxpayer-funded job and denied same-sex couples marriage licenses in the months after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land.
This clerk is Laurel “Sherrie” Eriksen, and earlier this month she was required to offer a public apology for discriminating against Dylan and Thomas as part of a legal settlement negotiated by Lambda Legal, the LGBQ advocacy group who represented the couple.
Thomas Hurd and Dylan Toften talk to WRBG TV in Albany, N.Y., about the town clerk who denied them a marriage license. Credit: Screenshot from WRBG TV.
“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,” Eriksen read during the April 10 town council meeting. “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.”
Town of Root clerk apologizes tonight 8 months after denying a gay couple their marriage license. The town has also reached a cash settlement with the couple. Hear from them tonight only on @CBS6Albany #MarriageEquality #LoveIsLove pic.twitter.com/e39x399HRK— Emily DeFeciani (@CBS6_Emily) April 11, 2019
The town also agreed to pay the couple $25,000 as part of the settlement. While it’s a shame that Eriksen put taxpayers in the position of paying for her discrimination, they could be facing the $225,000 in legal bills that Kentucky taxpayers may get saddled with to resolve Kim Davis’ refusal to serve same-sex couples.
On the bright side, Dylan and Thomas were able to get married after going to another community for their license. Of course, they should never have been turned away by Root’s town clerk: government officials must follow the law and must not discriminate. If religious beliefs prevent someone from fulfilling the duties taxpayers are entrusting them to complete, they shouldn’t be working in that position.
“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,” Dylan said in a statement. “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.”
We at Americans United congratulate Dylan and Thomas on both their marriage and their victory in the fight for LGBTQ rights and religious freedom in New York. AU continues this fight in states around the country to ensure religious freedom is not weaponized to harm others; you can support our work here.