Gay couple win damages after county clerk calls them an ‘abomination’

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A gay couple who were subjected to homophobic abuse while applying for a marriage license have received a settlement.

Amanda Abramovich and Samantha Brookover had planned to tie the knot in West Virginia in February 2016, but were subjected to a shocking rant by Gilmer County Deputy Clerk Debbie Allen while applying for a marriage license.

Ms Allen called the women an “abomination” to God and said their marriage shouldn’t be legal.

The pair took legal action over the incident – and as part of a settlement today, Gilmer County agreed to apologise to Abramovich and Brookover and issue a public statement regarding the wrongdoing by the County Clerk’s office.

They also promised to take steps to ensure that county officials and employees do not discriminate against anyone in the future, regardless of religious beliefs about sexual orientation or gender identity.

The county also agreed to pay damages in recognition of the harms Abramovich and Brookover suffered.

Abramovich and Brookover said: “When we went to get our marriage license, this was the last thing we expected.

“We were presented with two options: accept this treatment and leave the possibility that other couples would have to endure this as well, or speak up for ourselves and hopefully stop it from continuing.

“Consenting adults should never be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed when marrying the person they love. It will be a comfort to know that this behaviour will no longer be allowed in the Gilmer County Courthouse.”

The case was supported by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Fairness West Virginia and the law firm Mayer Brown LLP.

Richard B. Katskee, legal director of Americans United said: “We’re glad Gilmer County recognises that the clerk’s actions toward 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.

“We wish that Amanda and Samantha hadn’t suffered mistreatment and harassment on their wedding day, and we hope that they can take comfort in knowing that their brave actions to right this wrong should prevent future couples from experiencing what they went through.”

Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, said: “The tenets of fairness and equality benefit everyone. This favourable settlement not only rights a wrong, but also creates a path forward that will allow the County Clerk’s Office to rise to fairness through a training program designed to eliminate prejudice and discrimination.

In light of the current national news cycle, breaking down these walls is critical to ensuring that love trumps hate and that all West Virginians are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Katskee added: “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.

“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.”

In a statement, Gilmer County said: “On February 3, 2016, Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich went to the Gilmer County courthouse to apply for a marriage license, which they were legally entitled to receive.

“Although they received that marriage license, they were disrespected and disparaged by staff at the County Clerk’s Office because they are a same-sex couple.

“That was wrong. It is the policy of Gilmer County and the Gilmer County Clerk’s Office that all people seeking services and doing business with the County will be treated courteously and with respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The County Commission and Clerk will take steps to ensure that their employees comply with this policy.

“Gilmer County and the Gilmer County Clerk have agreed to resolve the lawsuit that Ms. Nrookover and Ms. Abramovich filed against them regarding the treatment received in applying for a marriage license.

“The Clerk’s Office has apologised to Ms. Brookover and Ms. Abramovich for the way that they were treated, and the County has paid damages
in recognition of the harms that they suffered.

“The County has also agreed to require all officials and employees of the County Commission and County Clerk’s Office to take part in a training program provided by Fairness West Virginia to help ensure that County policy is followed and the mistreatment that Ms. Brookover and Ms. Abramovich received does not recur.”

The clerk Debbie Allen previously admitted she told the couple that God would judge them – but says she “talked nicely to them”, and denies using the word “abomination”

She said: “I just told them my opinion. I just felt led to do that.

“I believe God was standing with me and that’s just my religious belief.

“[I] didn’t care to make eye contact with them.”