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Same-sex couple sues Gilmer clerk’s office

Americans United for Separation of Church and State | Courtesy photo
Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich sued Gilmer County and two county officials Monday, over alleged behavior while getting a marriage license in the county clerk’s office last year.

A same-sex couple that allegedly received condemnation from a deputy clerk while obtaining a marriage license at the Gilmer County Clerk’s Office last year filed a lawsuit over the incident Monday.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in West Virginia’s Northern District by high school sweethearts Amanda Abramovich and Samantha Brookover details the couple’s interaction with Debbie Allen, a deputy county clerk.

The lawsuit — against the county, as well as Allen and County Clerk Jean Butcher — claims the couple was denied a happy experience while applying for a marriage license and that their constitutional rights were violated when Allen singled them out.

When Allen “saw that a same-sex couple was applying for a marriage license, she did not provide the license on the same terms as for opposite-sex couples. Instead, Allen launched into a tirade of harassment and disparagement,” the complaint states.

Allen “insulted and ranted at the couple,” according to a news release about the lawsuit. Lawyers from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Fairness West Virginia filed the complaint on behalf of the couple.

Butcher, when told about Allen’s alleged behavior, said her employee had done nothing wrong and that the women deserved the treatment they received, according to the lawsuit.

Gilmer County officials could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Allen previously told the Gazette-Mail that she briefly and calmly told the couple what they were doing was wrong and that God would judge them, and then continued helping them, as she would other couples. Butcher previously said she told Brookover’s mother by phone that her views were similar to Allen’s. She said the women were issued the license, and “that was the main thing.”

The couple visited the Gilmer clerk’s office on Feb. 3, 2016 — seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can’t deprive same-sex couples of the right to marry.

“This year when we realized our anniversary was approaching, we got knots in our stomachs,” the couple said in the release. “This is the feeling we will have every year rather than the happiness of finally being legally married.”

Americans United filed the lawsuit Monday as part of its “Protect Thy Neighbor” initiative, which seeks to stop religion-based discrimination against LGBT people and others.

“Same-sex couples shouldn’t have to run a gauntlet of harassment, religious condemnation and discrimination in order to realize their dreams of marriage,” the Rev. Barry Lynn, Americans United’s executive director, said in the release. “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.”

Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia said, “West Virginia is a place that’s known for its hospitality and its adherence to the Golden Rule, to treat others as you’d like to be treated. The behavior of the Gilmer County clerks violates those values by perpetuating fear and intimidation in our community.

“LGBT couples in Gilmer County, and across West Virginia, should be free to be themselves when encountering government officials.”

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @KateLWhite on Twitter.

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