April 2016 Church & State - April 2016

W.Va. Same-Sex Couple Criticized And Preached To By Clerk

  AU admin

Two women who applied for a marriage license in Gilmer County, W.Va., were verbally abused by a deputy clerk, who then proceed to preach to them.

Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich in February sought a marriage license at the Gilmer County Courthouse. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that Debbie Allen, a deputy clerk who processed their license, told the couple that she did not agree with their marriage and allegedly called their actions “an abom­ination” during a rant that lasted two to three minutes.

“It just takes one person to remind you how closed-minded our world is,” Brookover said.

Although Allen did give the couple a license, she admitted that she judged the two, telling the Gazette-Mail, “I just told them my opinion. I just felt led to do that. I believe God was standing with me, and that’s just my religious belief.”

County Clerk Jean Butcher, who is Allen’s supervisor, told Brookover’s mother that she has similar views on marriage equality. Butcher dismissed the couple’s concerns, telling the newspaper, “They were issued the license, and that was the main thing.”

Americans United is now representing the couple and is considering litigation over the matter. On Feb. 12, AU sent a letter to Butcher explaining that Allen violated the constitutional rights of Brookover and Abramovich when she subjected them to her fundamentalist harangue.

In its letter, Americans United explained that the freedom of speech does not give government employees the right to verbally abuse anyone – even if they claim religious belief as a motive.

“The [constitutional] violation here is especially serious because Ms. Allen proselytized to a same-sex couple visiting a government office to obtain a government license that is required for them to get married. Indeed, the Deputy Clerk has admitted that her goal was to impose her own religious beliefs on the couple…,” asserted the letter.

“It is both cruel and unacceptable for a government employee to berate anyone he or she serves in an official capacity,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, in a media statement. “Even though Allen did not refuse to issue a license in this instance, she still deprived an innocent couple of their rights when she treated them like second-class citizens.”

This action is part of Americans United’s Protect Thy Neighbor project, which seeks to stop religion-based discrimination against LGBT persons and others.

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