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DA warns town clerks of penalties for refusing marriage licenses to gay couples

Sunday, July 10, 2011
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As New York state prepares to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples later this month, at least one county is reminding local officials there will be consequences if they refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

You might remember that Barbara MacEwen, town clerk of Volney, in Oswego County, said she believes same-sex marriage is morally wrong and doesn’t want her name on a marriage license issued to a same-sex couple.

Kathleen Rice

But in Nassau County, District Attorney Kathleen Rice is making it clear there will be none of that nonsense in her jurisdiction.

“The Marriage Equality Act provides that an application for a marriage license cannot be denied on the grounds that the applicant parties are of the same sex and the law affords no discretion to public officials charged with granting marriage licenses. Therefore, any such refusal may be subject to criminal prosecution.

“The religious exemptions in the Marriage Equality Act are inapplicable to town and city clerks serving in their license-granting roles, and a public official’s intentional refusal to issue marriage licenses to qualified same-sex couples may constitute Official Misconduct, a Class A misdemeanor defined in section 195.00 of the New York State Penal Law.”

Rice delivered the advisement in a letter to the city and town clerks in her Long Island county on Friday. Same-sex marriage becomes legal in New York state on July 24.

A copy of the letter is here (PDF).

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