County clerks mull possible same-sex marriage changes
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One West Virginia county clerk doesn't know what he would do if a federal judge rules West Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
"I'm against same-sex marriages. I'm against it, simple as that," said Wayne County Clerk Renick Booth. "I don't know what I'm going to do, I guess I'll cross that bridge when it happens."
On Oct. 1, three couples sued Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick and Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole. The couples say that by complying with state law and refusing to issue them marriage licenses, the clerks are unfairly discriminating against same-sex couples, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
West Virginia law bans same-sex marriages and does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
However, since the lawsuit was filed in West Virginia, same-sex couples in Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Utah and Oklahoma have secured the ability to marry. Federal judges' rulings in Utah and Oklahoma - two of the most socially conservative states in the country - that rules bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional have raised hopes among proponents of marriage equality.
"The momentum is swinging for freedom in all 50 states," Beth Littrell, an attorney with Lambda Legal, told the Gazette earlier this month. Lambda Legal is a national gay rights organization that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the couples.
"The arguments against allowing same-sex couples access to marriage are falling by the wayside and, you know, it seems that it's only a matter of time," Littrell said.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has intervened in the lawsuit to defend the state's law against same-sex marriages. Attorneys with his office have asked U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers to throw out the lawsuit saying state law doesn't cause them any immediate harm and the couples aren't married, so the fact West Virginia doesn't recognize same-sex marriages from other states doesn't affect them.
The same-sex couples in the case filed a motion for summary judgment earlier this month.
Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood said if Chambers strikes down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, he wouldn't have a problem following the law.
"My personal opinion, whether I'm for or against it, wouldn't matter," Wood said.
Gary Williams, the clerk of Boone County, agreed that he would follow the law, but said he'd consult with the county's prosecuting attorney first to be clear on what the law is.
"I'd go straight to the prosecuting attorney and ask him what we needed to do. It's just our job to do whatever the law says," Williams said.
Marriage applications have a place for a "bride" and "groom" to sign, according to Summers County Clerk Mary Beth Merritt.
"We get those from the Department of Health and Human Resources," she said.
Booth said he doesn't think much of the county's paperwork would have to change if the ban was struck down.
"You'd probably just write their names in," he said. "But I've never really thought about it. If somebody gets married it's male and female."
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.