CLARKSBURG – A same-sex couple is suing Gilmer County after they claim they were treated differently when they applied for a marriage license.
Gilmer County Deputy Clerk Debbie Allen and Gilmer County Clerk Jean Butcher were also named as defendants in the suit.
Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich, who are high school sweethearts and have been in a relationship for more than six years went to the Gilmer County Clerk's Office on Feb. 3, 2016, to obtain a marriage license, according to a complaint filed April 17 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
The plaintiffs claim they were not afforded the right to marry on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples because officials at the Gilmer County Clerk’s Office intimidated, humiliated and harassed them when they exercised their legal right to apply for and obtain a marriage license.
The day Brookover and Abramovich went to obtain their marriage license, Brookover’s mother, stepfather and niece accompanied them, expecting to witness what should have been one of the happiest days of the couple’s lives, according to the suit.
“But, they were denied that happy experience,” the complaint states. “When Deputy Clerk Debbie 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 plaintiffs claim Allen slammed the paperwork down on her desk and screamed that the couple was an “abomination” to God and that God would “deal” with them.
“Her rant continued for several minutes,” the complaint states. “Another clerk joined in, encouraging Allen’s attack on Amanda and Samantha by shouting ‘it’s [Allen’s] religious right’ to harass same-sex couples while performing the official state duties of the Clerk’s office.”
Throughout the attack, Abramovich remained silent and shaking, while Brookover was brought to tears, according to the suit. When Brookover’s mother later called Butcher to report the abusive attack on her daughter and her daughter’s fiancée, Butcher said that the couple deserved it and that the next same-sex couple who attempted to get a marriage license in Gilmer County would receive the same or worse treatment, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs claim same-sex couples in Gilmer County who wish to get married are faced with an unacceptable choice: run a gantlet of harassment, belittling, religious condemnation and discrimination or forgo their dreams of marriage.
“Our nation is governed by civil—not religious—law,” the complaint states. “Treating same-sex couples differently from other couples, out of religious conviction or otherwise, violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses.”
The plaintiffs claim actions by public officials that are grounded in their personal religious preferences violates the Establishment Clause.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages. They are being represented by Robert M. Bastress Jr. of Fairness West Virginia; Richard B. Katskee, Eric Rothschild and Kelly M. Percival of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; and Brian D. Netter and Manuel J. Velez of Mayer Brown.
The case is assigned to District Judge Irene Keeley.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number: 1:17-cv-00057