W.Va. County Apologizes For Discriminating Against Same-Sex Couple Who Applied For A Marriage License

Last year, Amanda Abramovich and Samantha Brookover were harassed by a West Virginia county clerk who ranted at them as they applied for a wedding license. The clerk called them an “abomination” and declared her belief that the same-sex couple shouldn’t be allowed to marry.

Today, thanks to Amanda and Samantha’s courage to stand up to discrimination, Gilmer County has promised that other same-sex couples won’t face similar harassment that ruins their wedding days.

Americans United and our allies – the LGBTQ advocacy group Fairness West Virginia and the law firm Mayer Brown LLP – are pleased to announce a settlement has been reached in the federal lawsuit we filed in April on Amanda and Samantha’s behalf.

Samantha Brookover (left) and Amanda Abramovich stood up to discrimination in Gilmer County, W.Va.

As part of the settlement, Gilmer County agreed to apologize for the wrongdoing of the County Clerk’s office and promised to take steps to ensure that county officials and employees do not discriminate against anyone in the future, regardless of religious beliefs about sexual orientation or gender identity. The county also agreed to pay damages in recognition of the harms Amanda and Samantha suffered.

“We wish that Amanda and Samantha hadn’t suffered mistreatment and harassment on their wedding day, and we hope that they can take comfort in knowing that their brave actions to right this wrong should prevent future couples from experiencing what they went through,” said Richard B. Katskee, AU’s legal director. “We’re glad Gilmer County recognizes that the clerk’s actions toward Amanda and Samantha were wrong, and that county officials are taking steps to ensure that all who do business with Gilmer County are treated equally and with respect.”

Amanda and Samantha are high-school sweethearts who sought a wedding license from the Gilmer County Clerk’s Office on Feb. 3, 2016 – more than six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage equality the law of the land and 16 months after same-sex couples had gained the right to marry in West Virginia.

Amanda and Samantha arrived at the courthouse with family members and a camera, ready to celebrate a milestone in their relationship. But they left in tears and disbelief after Deputy Clerk Debbie Allen unleashed a tirade of condemnation.

By treating a same-sex couple differently from others in the name of religion, the clerk violated the U.S. Constitution. That’s what we spelled out in the lawsuit we filed, Brookover v. Gilmer County.

“Same-sex couples shouldn’t have to run a gauntlet of harassment, religious condemnation and discrimination in order to realize their dreams of marriage,” said AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “Government officials must apply the law fairly to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs. If these clerks are unable to fulfill their duties, they shouldn’t work in a government office.”

Gilmer County has formally apologized to Amanda and Samantha as part of the settlement. The county also agreed to require all employees and officials of the County Commission and the County Clerk’s Office to take part in a training program sponsored by Fairness West Virginia to ensure that people seeking services from the county are treated fairly and without discrimination.

For their part, Amanda and Samantha are doing their best to put the upsetting incident behind them and enjoy married life.

“When we went to get our marriage license, this was the last thing we expected,” Amanda and Samantha said. “We were presented with two options: accept this treatment and leave the possibility that other couples would have to endure this as well, or speak up for ourselves and hopefully stop it from continuing.

“Consenting adults should never be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed when marrying the person they love,” the women said. “It will be a comfort to know that this behavior will no longer be allowed in the Gilmer County Courthouse.”

To learn more about AU’s work to prevent religion from being used as an excuse to harm others, visit our Protect Thy Neighbor project.