MADISON — The town is considering creating a policy that would prevent any couples from having marriage ceremonies in the Town Office.
The proposal comes just as same-sex marriage is about to become legal in the state, although Town Manager Dana Berry said it is unrelated to the new law.
Selectmen plan to meet to discuss the proposed policy at 6:30 p.m. Monday at their regular biweekly meeting.
“I don’t want to have marriage ceremonies in the Town Office because it’s distracting and detracts from the normal operations of the town’s employees. We just don’t have enough time, and that’s the only reason,” he said.
“The timing is a bit unusual, but as long as they are treating everyone the same and providing marriage licenses to all couples, I think it is a decision that is within their right to do,” said David Farmer, a spokesman for Equality Maine, a political action group representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Maine.
Farmer said that it usually takes about 20 minutes to get a marriage license, while a ceremony can take anywhere from another 30 minutes to an hour.
“I can see how it might be a reasonable policy in a small town,” he said.
Kim McLaughlin, president of the Maine Municipal Clerks Association and town clerk in Old Orchard Beach, said the state recommends municipalities have a policy on marriage ceremonies, although it is not mandated.
She said the only people authorized to perform marriage ceremonies in Maine are notaries public, lawyers admitted to the Maine Bar Association and clergy members from anywhere in the world.
Many town offices have notaries, although McLaughlin said she wasn’t sure how many and that towns are not required to have a notary public, who are commissioned by the state. Maddy Pierce, deputy town clerk and tax collector, said she is among several people in the office who notaries, all of whom may perform marriage ceremonies. She said she performs only a couple marriage ceremonies in the Town Office per year, including two so far this year, but that they are done during breaks or after office hours.
“It has nothing to do with my position in the town and doesn’t interfere with my work during office hours,” she said.
In Old Orchard Beach, McLaughlin said there is an unwritten policy that the Town Office does not perform marriage ceremonies, because it would take away a source of income from notaries in the town.
“We have never performed marriage ceremonies. We probably should have a written policy so that everyone is on the same page, but I don’t believe it is required,” said McLaughlin, who has been town clerk for 12 years.
The city of Augusta does not perform marriage ceremonies, while the city of Waterville performs them during regular business hours for a fee of $75. Waterville City Clerk Patti Dubois said the city does not plan to make any changes to marriage policy before the legalization of same-sex marriage takes effect Dec. 29.
Skowhegan does not have a policy on marriage ceremonies. Town Clerk Gail Pelotte said she has worked at the Town Office for 17 years and only once in that time does she recall a notary performing a marriage ceremony there.
“We don’t have a policy and I don’t see a need for one. No one ever asks to get married here,” she said.
Typically, couples who go to the Town Office to get a marriage license are given a list of area notaries they can contact, she said.
“I think people, whether they are a same-sex couple or a bride and groom, already have in mind what they want to do. It’s a very joyous event, especially for same-sex couples that have waited a long time to get married; and I would think most people plan something more special than going to the Skowhegan Town Office,” she said.
Pelotte said she doesn’t anticipate a huge increase in marriage licenses being issued at the end of the month, or the need for a policy on marriage ceremonies.
“We don’t even have a fee scale. It’s never a request,” she said.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368