A deputy clerk has been warned she might have violated the constitution – by telling off a lesbian couple who were getting married.
West Virginia couple Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich spoke out last week after going to the Gilmer County clerk’s office to get their official marriage license.
The pair claimed that deputy clerk Debbie Allen ranted to them about how their union was wrong in the eyes of God – and said they were “flabbergasted and hurt and angry like you wouldn’t believe” to be branded an “abomination”.
Allen admitted she told the couple that God would judge them, but says she “talked nicely to them”, and denies using the word “abomination”
However, Americans United – a group that advocates for separation of church and state – has warned the clerk she may have been violating the constitution by espousing her religious beliefs while serving in an official capacity.
In a letter to the clerk’s office, AU wrote: “We understand that Deputy County Clerk Debbie Allen recently attempted to discourage a same-sex couple from applying for a marriage license by condemning the couple’s relationship while processing the application.
“Ms Allen told the couple that their attempt to get married was wrong and that God would judge them.
“When the mother of one of the applicants called County Clerk Jean Butcher to complain, Ms. Butcher defended the behavior of her staff and stated that she had similar religious views.
“Not only was this conduct inhumane, but it flagrantly violated the couple’s constitutional rights.
“By chastising the couple and expressing religious disapproval of their relationship and attempt to marry, the County violated the Equal,Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. “
The letter continues: “In order to bring the County Clerk’s office into compliance with the Constitution, the office and its staff must refrain from conveying religious or antigay messages when processing marriage-license applications or performing other official functions.
“First, even if the Clerk’s office ultimately issues the marriage license, verbally disparaging a same-sex couple that applies for a license violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
“In Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have a Fourteenth Amendment right, under both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, to get married “on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.”.
“Here, the County is violating this equal-treatment requirement by singling out same-sex couples for official condemnation and thus “demean[ing] the couple[s], whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects…”.
“Just as County officials could not disparage the relationships of interracial or interfaith couples while processing their applications, County officials may not demean the relationships of same-sex couples.”
It continues: “Second, by telling applicants for a marriage license that God disapproves of their union, the County is violating the Establishment Clause. Governmental entities may not communicate an “endorsement of religion”.
“When performing their jobs, then, government officials such as county clerks and their staff may not communicate religious messages to members of the public.
“The Establishment Clause 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 the couple to get married.
“Indeed, the Deputy Clerk has admitted that she sought to impose her own religious beliefs on the couple: “I just told them my opinion. I felt led to do that. I believe God was standing with me and that’s just my religious belief.”
“County officials, moreover, have no affirmative right to treat same-sex couples this way; the County can and must require its officials to comply with the Constitution.
“Recently, a federal court ruled that Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has no First Amendment right to interfere with citizens’ right to marry, despite her own religious opposition to marriage by same-sex couples; as a government official, Davis may not “openly adopt[ ] a policy that promotes her own religious convictions at the expenses of others”.
“Decision after decision has reinforced that government officials have no constitutional right to direct unwanted religious messages at the public.
“Whether issuing marriage licenses or fulfilling their other responsibilities, County officials have no right “to make the promotion of religion a part of their job description.”
“Please bring the County Clerk’s office into compliance with the Constitution by ensuring that County officials do not disparage same-sex couples or direct religious messages to the public. We would appreciate a response to this letter within fourteen days.”
The action is part of Americans United’s Protect Thy Neighbor project, which seeks to stop religion-based discrimination against LGBT persons and others.
Allen said previously: “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.
“[I] didn’t care to make eye contact with them.”
She added: “We did not attack them. We did not yell at them.
“We were not aggressive with them. I felt I talked nicely to them.”
Gilmer County Clerk Jean Butcher has reportedly declined to take action, saying: “They were issued the license, and that was the main thing.”