New York State Division of Human Rights Achieves Settlement Agreement in Investigation Into Denial of Marriage License to Same Sex Couple

December 13, 2019 

The New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) announced today that it has reached a settlement agreement with the Town of Root, New York. The agreement follows the denial of a marriage license to a same sex couple by the Town Clerk in Montgomery County.  Governor Andrew M. Cuomo directed DHR to investigate the matter which concluded that the Town of Root had failed to meet their obligation to not discriminate under state law.

DHR Commissioner Angela Fernandez said: “The New York State Division of Human Rights works tirelessly to fight the scourge of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Marriage equality is the law of the land and those who deny New Yorkers their fundamental rights will be held fully accountable.”

On July 30, 2018, Town of Root residents Dylan Toften and Thomas Hurd sought to obtain a marriage license from their Town Clerk, Sherrie Eriksen.  Even though Mr. Toften and Mr. Hurd had the requisite documents with them, Ms. Eriksen refused to process their application. On August 1, 2018, Governor Cuomo directed DHR to open an investigation into the denial of the marriage license. DHR’s investigation revealed that couples were treated differently by the Clerk’s office based on their sexual orientation. DHR determined that there was probable cause the Town of Root violated that state law, which mandates that no application for a marriage license be denied on the grounds that the parties are of the same sex and prohibits government entities from treating individuals seeking to get married differently because of their sexual orientation.

Under the terms of today’s settlement, the Town of Root has agreed to pay a civil fine and penalty to New York State.  The Town has also agreed to adopt new non-discriminatory policies that will ensure that all individuals in the Town have an equal opportunity to obtain a marriage license.  In addition, the Town will train its current and future employees on the provisions of the State Human Rights Law and will be required to post the Division’s anti-discrimination poster in a conspicuous and public location in the Town building.  In a previously announced agreement, the Town of Root also paid a settlement of $25,000 to Mr. Toften and Mr. Hurd and Town Clerk Eriksen issued a public apology.

"Thank you to Governor Cuomo and the New York State Division of Human Rights for their work on this settlement," said Dylan Toften and Thomas Hurd. "It's reassuring to know that the State of New York is looking out for residents of small towns and that no New Yorkers rights can be denied so easily."

Governor Cuomo and his administration have long been committed to supporting LGBT rights and ensuring that no one suffers discrimination because of their sexual orientation.  In October 2019, he signed legislation conforming laws in estate planning and surrogates court procedures to the Marriage Equality Act.  Under his administration, DHR, in 2014, achieved the settlement of a discrimination complaint against a town in the Finger Lakes region that allegedly denied a spot on a local planning board to an attorney because she was a lesbian.  In 2014, DHR also issued an order finding that an marriage venue in Rensselaer County had discriminated against a same-sex couple by denying the opportunity to have their wedding onsite.