During the November election, several states passed referendums allowing same-sex marriages, and in Maine and Washington, Notaries could be called on for their services — raising the issue of whether Notaries can decline requests that go against their personal beliefs.
Maine Notaries, who along with those in South Carolina and Florida are authorized to perform marriages, have been told that if they officiate at weddings for opposite-sex couples, they cannot refuse to marry same-sex couples. Those that do refuse may be subject to a discrimination claim under the Maine Human Rights Act. The ruling, issued by the Secretary of State’s Office, provides clarification to the state’s 25,000 Notaries when the new law takes effect December 29. Several Notaries resigned their commissions following the referendum, according to local news reports.
Although Notaries in Washington are not permitted to perform weddings, they may be asked to notarize marriage license applications for same-sex couples.
While some Notaries may want to refuse requests they find objectionable, a Notary is acting as a public official when performing all types of notarial acts. Many states specifically define a Notary’s role as acting as an impartial, third-party witness, and some prohibit Notaries from refusing lawful requests or have restrictions regarding when a request may be refused.
If the law in the Notary’s state is silent on the issue of refusing a lawful request for a notarial act, the Notary should follow Standard I-A-3 of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility. This Standard states that a Notary should not refuse to perform a lawful and proper notarial act "because of disagreement with the statements or purpose…" It’s important to avoid any practices that suggest bias or compromise your impartiality. While some might see refusing to perform a notarial function based on your personal principles as an appropriate gesture, it directly violates the principle of serving all members of the public equally.