A lesbian couple allegedly harassed and insulted by a county clerk as they were obtaining a marriage license has had a federal lawsuit filed for them.
West Virginian high school sweethearts Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich were attacked last year after going to the Gilmer County clerk’s office to get their official marriage license.
The pair claimed that deputy clerk Debbie Allen ranted to them about how their union was wrong in the eyes of God – and said they were “flabbergasted and hurt and angry like you wouldn’t believe” to be branded an “abomination”.
The lawsuit was filed by Americans United – a non-profit which advocates for the separation of church and state, LGBT civil rights group Fairness West Virginia and law firm Mayer Brown.
In a statement, the groups accused Allen of “slamming down paperwork and indicating God would ‘deal’ with them.
“Allen cited her Christian beliefs when she told the women their intent to marry was wrong and shouldn’t be legal,” they added.
Allen admitted at the time that she told the couple – who were accompanied by family members – that God would judge them, but said she “talked nicely to them”, and denied using the word “abomination”.
In a joint statement, Abramovich and Brookover said: “The county clerks had no idea who we were before they started screaming at us.
“No background details, no idea we’ve been together since high school and certainly no idea how much we love each other.”
They added that “this year when we realised our anniversary was approaching, we got knots in our stomachs.
“This is the feeling we will have every year rather than the happiness of finally being legally married.”
The groups’ statement said Abramovich and Brookover were afraid that without legal action, “they’ll continue to face harassment and ill treatment when they interact with the county office to pay their taxes, register to vote or complete other necessary tasks.”
Executive director of Americans United, Rev Barry Lynn, said: “Same-sex couples shouldn’t have to run a gauntlet of harassment, religious condemnation and discrimination in order to realise their dreams of marriage.
“Government officials must apply the law fairly to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs. If these clerks are unable to fulfill their duties, they shouldn’t work in a government office.”
Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, said that his state was “a place that’s known for its hospitality and its adherence to the Golden Rule, to treat others as you’d like to be treated.”
He said the behaviour of Allen and her fellow clerks who backed up her actions “violated those values by perpetuating fear and intimidation in our community.
“LGBT couples in Gilmer County, and across West Virginia, should be free to be themselves when encountering government officials.”
Allen said previously: “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.”
She added: “We did not attack them. We did not yell at them.
“We were not aggressive with them. I felt I talked nicely to them.”
Gilmer County Clerk Jean Butcher declined to take action at the time, saying: “They were issued the license, and that was the main thing.”