Samantha Brookover stood crying in Glenville’s Gilmer County Courthouse last week, humiliated on what was meant to be a celebratory occasion.
Brookover and her partner, Amanda Abramovich, wanted a marriage license. They got one, along with an earful from a deputy clerk in the office, who told them that their relationship is wrong and that God will judge them.
Brookover and Abramovich had expected maybe an eye roll or some sign of disgust. They said they weren’t anticipating that they would be told they were “an abomination.”
“It just takes one person to remind you how closed-minded our world is,” Brookover said.
Debbie Allen, the deputy clerk who processed their marriage license, and another deputy clerk who was there, Angela Moore, disputed some of the allegations from the couple and Brookover’s mother, Jill Goff, who also was there. They disagree on how loud Allen was and whether the word “abomination” was used, although Moore said she couldn’t hear everything.
“I was working on what I was supposed to be doing and, honestly, I didn’t care to make eye contact with them,” Moore said.
The clerks don’t dispute that Allen told the couple that what they were doing was wrong and that they would be judged, but they also stressed that they did not view the statement as an “attack.”
“We did not attack them,” Allen said. “We did not yell at them. We were not aggressive with them. I felt I talked nicely to them.”
Brookover and Abramovich, though, say Allen huffed, took their driver’s licenses, made copies, slammed down the copies and then, for two to three minutes, yelled that what they were doing was wrong in her eyes and in God’s eyes and that no one in Gilmer County would ever marry them.
The couple had brought family members. They had the camera ready. It was supposed to be a happy day. Instead, in Brookover’s words, they were “flabbergasted and hurt and angry like you wouldn’t believe.”
Allen said she briefly and calmly told the couple what they were doing was wrong and that God would judge them, and then continued assisting them as she would other couples.
“I just told them my opinion,” she said. “I just felt led to do that. I believe God was standing with me and that’s just my religious belief.”
Asked if her words could possibly have been perceived as an attack to someone of another sexual orientation, who has been belittled because of it, Allen said, “Oh, I’m sure.”
She wouldn’t say how she might treat any same-sex couples that arrive at the clerk’s office in the future.
Some have argued that the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, if it passes the Legislature, would allow clerks to argue that they shouldn’t be forced to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The legislation, House Bill 4012, could allow people to argue in court that civil rights laws don’t apply to them because of their religious beliefs.
Goff had a phone conversation with Gilmer County Clerk Jean Butcher about the incident. Butcher said she told Goff that her religious beliefs are similar to Moore’s.
“They were issued the license, and that was the main thing,” Butcher told the Gazette-Mail.
Abramovich and Brookover already had held a commitment ceremony, but they wanted to get health insurance together and had to be married to do that.
While they obtained the license, they still feel that Allen didn’t properly perform her job.
“Someone at McDonald’s can’t refuse to give someone a cheeseburger because they’re a heart attack risk,” Abramovich said. “You’ve got to do your job. You can’t just scream at people.”
It wasn’t the first time the women were judged for their sexual orientations. They grew up in rural West Virginia. They went to high school together but didn’t tell anyone that they were a couple until after graduation, for fear of how friends might respond. Abramovich said she was used to her stepfather being “a little hateful.”
“But to have a complete stranger — someone that doesn’t know me — scream like that, it really cut down to the bone,” she said.
Others, like Goff, have been accepting, although she said she did tell Brookover she felt sad when her daughter came out.
“She took that as I was ashamed,” Goff said. “I told her that it was not that. I love her with all my heart, no matter what she does. What I said to her was I hate the way people are going to treat you. That makes me sad because, for the rest of your life, you’re going to have to pay a price for this.”