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Same-sex couple settlement costs Root $25,000

Same-sex couple settlement costs Root $25,000

Town clerk says she won't discriminate in future
Same-sex couple settlement costs Root $25,000
Root Town Clerk Sherrie Erikson before reading a brief statement during the Town Board Meeting, April 10, 2019.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

ROOT — The town's legal settlement with a same-sex couple who couldn't get a marriage license last summer included a $25,000 payment to the couple, in addition to the public apology Town Clerk Sherrie Eriksen read Wednesday night.

Eriksen did not acknowledge she denied Thomas Hurd and Dylan Toften a marriage license last July 30 because of religious objections, but she said say she was sorry "for any harm or inconvenience my actions caused the couple," and promised not to discriminate in the future.

"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 said in her statement at a packed Root Town Board meeting. "As such, my office, and I personally, will issue marriage licensed to any couple, without exception, who is legally entitled to be issued one."

The couple, who later obtained a marriage license in Cobleskill and are now married, filed a notice of claim against the town alleging discrimination. Their cause was taken up by Lambda Legal, which negotiated the settlement.

"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, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, which for decades has argued for equal rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people.

On Facebook, Thomas Hurd-Toften said the couple is pleased, but portrayed their challenge to Eriksen's decision as part of a larger fight for equal rights.

"It's important to remember, this is just one," Hurd-Toften wrote on Thursday. "We must keep fighting for equality for everyone. Don't give up. Remember this -- if two gay guys in the middle of nowhere have this much support, so do you. Don't be afraid to stand up for what is right! I hope that what we went through has given courage to others to take a stand and also shown, that we will not stand down for our rights."

Same-sex marriage has been legal in New York state since 2011.

"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 Toften-Hurd said in a statement provided by Lambda Legal.

The couple went public after they said Eriksen refused them a marriage license -- an incident that briefly thrust the rural Montgomery County town with barely 1,700 residents into an unwelcome spotlight.

The couple had previously called for Erisksen’s resignation or removal from the elected office.

When Hurd and Toften visited the clerk for a marriage license, Eriksen told them they needed to schedule an appointment with her deputy and return another day. They immediately went public with their complaint of discrimination, saying she also told them she didn’t sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Town Attorney Robert Subik later confirmed she cited a religious objection to signing off on same-sex marriage licenses.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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