Gilmer officials must apologize to same-sex couple

By Kyla Asbury | Aug 31, 2017

CLARKSBURG – Gilmer County officials have agreed to apologize to a same-sex couple that filed a lawsuit earlier this year after a county clerk condemned them when issuing a marriage license in 2016.

The officials must also pay Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich $10,000 and undergo workplace sensitivity training.

District Judge Irene M. Keeley dismissed the case on Aug. 30, after receiving word that the plaintiffs and defendants had come to an agreement.

“All parties to this action have agreed to resolve this dispute by entering into a settlement agreement,” the voluntary dismissal order states. “Accordingly, the parties request that the court enter the proposed order of voluntary dismissal…and retain jurisdiction to hear any disputes that may arise under the terms of the settlement agreement.”

The lawsuit was filed against Gilmer County, Gilmer County Deputy Clerk Debbie Allen and Gilmer County Clerk Jean Butcher on April 17 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.

Brookover and Abramovich, who are high school sweethearts and have been in a relationship for more than six years, and, on Feb. 3, 2016, they went to the Gilmer County Clerk’s Office to obtain a marriage license.

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 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 defendants are represented by Wendy E. Greve of Pullin, Fowler & Flanagan.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number: 1:17-cv-00057

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