In February 2016, six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental constitutional right to marry, Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich sought a marriage license from Gilmer County, West Virginia. Instead of assisting Abramovich and Brookover in a professional manner, Debbie Allen, the deputy county clerk, harassed them with religiously motivated condemnation, including calling them “an abomination.”
The couple was eventually issued a marriage license, but not before Allen verbally berated the couple so brutally that Brookover was brought to tears, ruining the memory of the couple’s wedding day. In a statement to the media, Allen said, “I believe God was standing with me and that’s just my religious belief.” We learned that Jean Butcher, the county clerk, supported and encouraged Allen’s harassment of Brookover and Abramovich because she, too, did not want to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In April 2017, Americans United, representing Brookover and Abramovich, filed suit in federal court against Gilmer County, Allen, and Butcher. We brought Equal Protection, Due Process, and Establishment Clause claims against them. We argued that state employees must not use religion to intimidate or harass a same-sex couple seeking a marriage license.
In August 2017, Americans United negotiated a settlement of the case. As part of the settlement, Gilmer County agreed to apologize for the wrongdoing of its clerk’s office and promised to take steps to prevent discrimination in the future. The agreement required Gilmer County employees to undergo training by Fairness West Virginia, a group that advocates for the civil rights of LGBTQ people. The County also agreed to pay damages to Brookover and Abramovich. This case is now closed.