A West Virginia county has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by a lesbian couple who allege they were mistreated and harassed by local officials when they attempted to obtain a marriage license.
In April, high school sweethearts Amanda Ambramovich and Samantha Brookover sued Gilmer County in federal court, claiming that county officials violated their constitutional rights by discriminating against them under the guise of religion when they applied for a license.
The couple says Deputy Clerk Debbie Allen insulted them, screamed at them, slammed down the licensing paperwork, and told the women they were an “abomination” and that God would “deal” with them.
Another clerk also harassed the women while Allen was ranting at them, citing her religious objections to same-sex marriage.
Later, Brookover’s mother called County Clerk Jean Butcher to complain about her employees’ conduct, but Butcher said she didn’t believe her subordinates had done anything wrong.
Butcher allegedly told Brookover’s mother that the couple deserved to be mistreated, and any other same-sex couples would be treated similarly.
The couple later enlisted the help of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which sued the state on behalf of the women and the statewide LGBTQ organization Fairness West Virginia as part of its “Protect Thy Neighbor” project, which aims to stop religious-based discrimination against LGBTQ people and others.
As part of Wednesday’s settlement, Gilmer County has agreed to issue a public statement admitting wrongdoing and apologizing to Abramovich and Brookover. The county also agreed to pay $10,000 in damages to the couple, and has promised to require all county officials and employees of both the clerk’s office and the County Commission to undergo sensitivity training, which will be provided by Fairness West Virginia, within the next four months.
Lastly, the county has agreed to permanently post a sign in the clerk’s office with language stating that the office will serve all residents, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The sign will read: “The Gilmer County Clerk’s Office is here to serve all Gilmer County residents. The Office does not and will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification. If you feel that you have been treated unfairly, contact Fairness West Virginia, (304) 806-2220, firstname.lastname@example.org.”
“We’re glad Gilmer County recognizes that the clerk’s actions towards Amanda and Samantha were wrong, and that county officials are taking steps to ensure that all who do business with Gilmer County are treated equally and with respect,” Richard Katskee, legal director of Americans United, said in a statement.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, and finding someone to love and to marry is a fundamental part of the American dream for many. One should not come at the expense of the other,” Katskee added. “Religious freedom gives us all the right to believe, or not, as we see fit, but it does not give anyone the right to harm others.”
Abramovich and Brookover issued their own statement saying they were glad they spoke up so that other same-sex couples would not be subjected to the same mistreatment.
“Consenting adults should never be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed when marrying the person they love,” the women added. “It will be a comfort to know that this behavior will no longer be allowed in the Gilmer County Courthouse.”
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