Same-sex marriage law: Notaries can’t discriminate in performing weddings

AUGUSTA — Notaries public in Maine who officiate weddings of opposite-sex couples and refuse to marry same-sex couples could be subject to a claim of discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act, according to the Maine secretary of state’s office.

The notice sent to municipal clerks this week effectively means an all or none approach for notaries public when it comes to performing weddings.

Notaries public in Maine may, but are not required to, perform weddings, Cathy Beaudoin, who oversees the licensing of notaries for the Department of the Secretary of State, said in an email to municipal clerks dated Monday.

The email clarified for notaries public whether they would be required to perform same-sex weddings when the new law allowing gay couples to marry goes into effect Dec. 29. The Bangor Daily News was provided a copy of the email by the Bangor city clerk’s office.

“If you are a Notary Public who performs marriages and you refuse to perform a marriage for a couple due to a person’s race, color, sex, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, religion, creed, age, ancestry or national origin, you may be subject to a claim of discrimination.’’ Beaudoin wrote. “The new law authorizing same-sex marriage does not provide any exemption from liability for Maine Notaries who refuse to perform marriages for same-sex couples.”

There are about 25,000 notaries public licensed by the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions, a division of the secretary of state’s office, Barbara Redmond, who works in the bureau, said Wednesday in a phone interview.

The office does know how many officiate weddings. The office of vital records does not keep track of how many marriages are performed by clergy and how many are performed by notaries.

The powers of a notary public also include the administration of oaths or

affirmations, certification of an affidavit or an acknowledgment of instruments related to real estate transfers, the certification of copies of private documents and absentee ballots and the solemnization of marriages, according to the Notary Public Handbook and Resource Guide posted on the secretary of state’s website.

“Notaries most often witness financial transactions, but they are authorized to perform marriages,” Redmond said.

After the referendum allowing same-sex couples to marry was passed by voters on Nov. 6, a few notaries called the secretary of state’s office with questions about how the new law applied to them, Redmond said. A handful resigned.

The new law exempts clergy who object to same-sex marriage for religious reasons. It does not exempt notaries from officiating at same-sex weddings, even if they have religious objections, said Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine and the former co-chairman of Protect Marriage, which opposed the referendum.

Conley recommended that notaries public who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds but have performed traditional marriages in the past, stop officiating at weddings to avoid a possible conflict with the provisions of the Maine Human Rights Act.

“There are ambiguities in the law you could drive a truck through,” Conley said Wednesday. “The attorney general’s office and the secretary of state’s office wouldn’t talk about the possible implications before the election, so now we’re trying to identify and define where the conflicts are.”

David Farmer, who was spokesman for Mainers United for Marriage, the campaign that supported the referendum, said Wednesday there was no need to exempt notaries public because they are not required to perform marriages.

“Notary publics perform civil functions as opposed to religious functions,” he said Wednesday. “They are required to perform their duties as actors of the state. They can decide to not do weddings for any reason.”

Burke Soileau, 78, of Sebec has never performed a wedding. All he’s done as a notary is act as a witness for people voting absentee, but he was worried about how the new law would affect him.

“I’m a Catholic and under no circumstances would I do a same-sex marriage,” he said last month. “I’m on the list of notary publics [posted on the secretary of state’s website] and I’m concerned that if I refused to perform a same-sex marriage, I could be challenged legally.”

Soileau, who said last month that he was considering giving up his license, said Wednesday that he would renew it and continue helping local voters cast absentee ballots.

Dianne Lovejoy, deputy Bangor city clerk, performed between 35 and 40 weddings last year as a notary public. She said Wednesday that she is looking forward to a “surge in business” after Dec. 29.

“I love meeting the people,” she said. “It’s a fun thing to do. Everybody’s happy.”

Lovejoy, who said some people seek her out because of her surname, already has begun searching online for vows that would be appropriate for same-sex couples.

The deputy city clerk said she will be working at Bangor City Hall from 6 to 8 a.m. Dec. 29 issuing marriage licenses but will be too busy to officiate weddings that day. About half a dozen volunteers who are notaries will be on hand to perform weddings.

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Steve  Dosh's picture

Thanks Judy . 12.13.12 18:00

Thanks Judy . 12.13.12 18:00 hst ? It's normal now, †hank goodness • = No discrimination or discriminating = /s Steve , Ombudsman

 's picture

same sex marriage

The people of Maine were deceived and played like suckers. We were told that all they wanted was the same opportunity to be married. They said there wouldn't be any discrimination. Were we fooled. Well, most people were. I knew with a lot of other Christians that being married was not the only item on the agenda. They had to get gay marriage passed in order to get the rest of their agenda in place. Kinda sounds like the Federal Government

Steve  Dosh's picture

. . No , Jim. No body was

. . No , Jim. No body was deceived . Don't forget that just a short 20 years ago blacks could not marry whites in Georgia , u s a . b t w - Have you ever attended a Jewish , Muslim , Tao , Shinto , Buddist , athiest , agnostic or Wiccan wedding ? That's simply meant as a rhetorical question • We are - all - just saying , " Love , love . Hate hatred and bigotry . "
b t w - many people got married on 12.12.12 yesterday in Las Vegas , NV usa , too
The date is E Z to remember . My wife and i were married on 12/21
*<;-Q~ /s, Santa Steve <- not necesarily an endorsement LSJ® . . ..

 's picture

No one ever said any such thing as

"They said there wouldn't be any discrimination." That's ridiculous. The supporters of marriage equality would be the victims of discrimination. There is no way that they could promise that there wouldn't be any. No one was fooled. This is more of the same irrational garbage the other side throws around to conceal their hatred of gays.


Personal religious values

No one is forced to be a Notary Public. Nor are they forced to own a restaurant or a store or operate a school or a hospital. Personal religious values are not the law of the land. If one chooses to operate a business in this country they should follow the law of the land. If we allow them to follow their "values" then they should be allowed to refuse services to previously divorced people, women who are pregnant or who have children out of wedlock, people who are pagans, atheists or who belong to a non-christian religion, people who eat pork, people who vote for the wrong party, people who have had abortions, people who don't intend to procreate, adulterers, people of different races or ethnic backgrounds etc. People who are taxpaying citizens should all be treated equally in a democratic society according to the law and no one should be discriminated against because of someone's religious beliefs.


It's a business.

If you own a business, you can't refuse to serve someone just because their lifestyle offends you. Same with marrying couples if you are a notary. If there are some couples that you feel should not be married, then don't perform marriages.

 's picture


If it is AGAINST their personal religious values they should NOT be forced to perform the wedding. Gov. Lepage STILL has time to OVER TURN this travesty of Morality & decency!

Bob Berry's picture


Don't I recall being 'assured' that this couldn't possibly happen?

 's picture


What you were told was that clergy would not have to marry same-sex couples. Notaries are given their power to marry people from the State as such they are required to follow Maine's laws, which now includes same-sex arriage and the law which prevents people from discriminating on others. As for Gordie already answered your outragious claim, LePage can't overturn something that was elected by the people, maybe if this was the early 1700's he could do that, but it is not. Despite your archaic views, I would assume you know that this is 2012.

Bob Berry's picture


Ahh, thanks for clearing that up. Gotta love those technicalities. Augmentation, great.

 's picture

Technicalities? If you

Technicalities? If you represent the state, which is what notaries do, you must follow Maine laws. No technicalities, just common sense.


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