Montana Clerks Allowed to Refuse Marriage Licenses for Gay Couples

Last week a federal court overturned Montana’s ban on same-sex marriage and gay couples are now allowed to get married. But as in other states, some clerks think they should be excused from issuing licenses to them because of their religion. Unlike other states so far, they’re being allowed to refuse to serve the public.

Some employees in the Yellowstone County clerk’s office have objected to processing same-sex wedding licenses and as a result aren’t being asked to do so for the time being.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris overturned Montana’s gay-marriage ban effective immediately. Since then, one deputy clerk has expressed religious objections to granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples while three others have objected on moral grounds, Yellowstone County Clerk Kristie Lee Boelter said.

County Human Relations Director Dwight Vigness consulted with the county attorney’s office and decided to exempt the four from having to issue same-sex marriage licenses, Boelter told The Billings Gazette.

The decision was based on part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, she said, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on several factors, including religion.

Seriously? The Civil Rights Act means the exact opposite of that, even if it doesn’t include sexual orientation. It’s those clerks who are discriminating on the basis of religion, refusing to do their jobs if it conflicts with their religion. In almost no other scenario would this be tolerated. Imagine some of the following situations in which an agent of the government might have a religious reason to refuse to serve a member of the public:

A clerk rejects interracial marriage on religious grounds and refuses to issue licenses for it.

A clerk rejects interreligious marriage on religious and grounds and refuses to issue licenses for it.

A government agent thinks drinking alcohol is illegal and refuses to issue a business license to a restaurant or store that sells alcohol.

A government agent believes women should not work and refuses a business license to any woman applying for one.

In none of these cases would anyone seriously argue that they should be allowed to discriminate against the public on the basis of their religious beliefs. But when it comes to gay people, suddenly some are demanding that religion be a valid excuse to not do their jobs and to discriminate against people when they are required to uphold the laws — all the laws, not just the ones they approve of. This is exactly why sexual orientation and gender expression need to be added to the Civil Rights Act.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • briandavis

    An even more frightening scenario in Montana would be if a vegan refused to issue hunting and fishing licenses.

  • Alverant

    I wonder if they’d also support a muslim grocery store employee refusing to handle pork products including running bags of pork rinds over the scanner at the checkout.

  • John Pieret

    On the good side, Kristie Lee Boelter, clerk of Yellowstone County District Court, said:

    It is my responsibility to uphold the law and follow the law,” Boelter said Friday morning. “My directive to deputy clerks who took the same oath I did is to follow the law or we have issues.

    “In my opinion, some of those same religions (objecting to the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples) also disagree with divorce, and yet we deal with many divorce cases in this office,” Boelter said. “I don’t think that’s fair.” …

    “The majority of the staff is supportive of (the judge’s) order and are following it,” [Boelter] said. “I said to (the deputy clerks), ‘Guys, we took an oath. This is what I was elected to do, and we will issue licenses to same-sex couples according to the order.'”

    Boelter said she believes “there will be a lot of tension in the office because of this. I would like this to blow over, but I don’t think it will.

    “If you are going to be in turmoil, this is not the job for you,” Boelter said. “You have to be thick-skinned to work in this office. We have cases where children are being abused, where women and men are abused in divorce cases. We need to learn to separate our personal feelings from the job.”

    There are 14 other deputy clerks (including one gay man) who are fine with following the law.

    http://helenair.com/news/local/updated-some-montana-clerks-exempt-from-issuing-same-sex-marriage/article_0be12aca-13d4-56ff-b3f0-64856be45056.html

  • John Pieret

    Opps … make that 16 other clerks who respect the law.

  • eamick

    A government agent thinks drinking alcohol is illegal and refuses to issue a business license

    I assume you meant immoral or sinful; legality is not subject to personal opinion.

  • Chiroptera

    John Pieret, #3: On the good side, Kristie Lee Boelter, clerk of Yellowstone County District Court, said:

    That is a good side. But is she really allowed to make this decision? Wouldn’t the the decision of the relevant state officials bind her? (Barring, that is, a clear decision that the state officials’ action itself is illegal.)

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    Meh. This will all be moot once SCOTUS overturns the the Civil Right Act. (Now that racism is dead and all…)

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    It’s okay. I work in that office. I’m on it. Whenever Some Employees (just one guy, really. Mr Employees is from Thailand) refused to issue a marriage licence to a couple, I step in. Plus, I marry the next two people of the same sex, just to be safe. Even if they’re there for a dog licence or advice on how high their fence is allowed to be. Some Employees aside, we run a citizen-friendly office. Too friendly, Some say. Others too (Others Too is also from Thailand).

  • Chiroptera

    A clerk rejects interracial marriage on religious grounds and refuses to issue licenses for it.

    A clerk rejects interreligious marriage on religious and grounds and refuses to issue licenses for it.

    A government agent thinks drinking alcohol is illegal and refuses to issue a business license to a restaurant or store that sells alcohol.

    A government agent believes women should not work and refuses a business license to any woman applying for one.

    Unfortunately, we have several members of the US Supreme Court who appear all to happy to carefully parse the distinctions for us.

  • steve84

    Completely ridiculous. A marriage license is just a piece of paper. Clerks aren’t actually marrying one. They just need to check if people are eligible to get married. What’s next. Can any one low level bureaucrat (and that’s what clerks are) refuse to fill out paperwork for same-sex couples?

  • John Pieret

    Chiroptera @ 6:

    But is she really allowed to make this decision?

    To clarify, she didn’t make the decision to exempt the one (and three other possible) religious objectors. That was done by the county Human Relations Director Dwight Vigness after consulting with the County Attorney’s office. Boelter (correctly) thinks it was a bad decision.

  • John Pieret

    And some more:

    Lewis and Clark County District Court Clerk Nancy Sweeney on Friday said none of her deputies are exempt from issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

    “I have not exempted any of my deputy clerks to issue licenses,” she said. “And I expect all of my deputies to perform the functions they swore to do and to uphold the laws of Montana and the United States.” …

    The human resources department and county attorney in Lewis and Clark County are developing a policy to address the new law and its effects on clerk functions.

    Statewide legal issues may arise if clerks continue to refuse serving couples based on several factors, including religious beliefs.

    “I foresee this being an issue for the state,” Sweeney said. “But I believe the law will clearly indicate the correct path to follow, and if not, I’m quite certain it will be in line for the Supreme Court to decide at a future date through a court case.”

    http://helenair.com/news/local/district-court-clerks-in-helena-required-to-serve-gay-couples/article_c689887c-f79c-544d-a0b9-b326db7d7f41.html

  • gshelley

    A clerk rejects interreligious marriage on religious and grounds and refuses to issue licenses for it.

    It doesn’t even have to be interreligious. Someone might think and Islamic marriage is not valid and they shouldn’t support it, or even one that is the wrong type of Christian

  • tbp1

    NIce to note that most of the comments there do not support the clerks who are refusing to do their job.

  • http://festeringscabofrealityblogspot.com fifthdentist

    I bet those same four clerks don’t bat an eye when a divorced woman comes in for a marriage license, even thought Jesus himself said that a woman who remarries after a divorce commits adultery* as does the man who marries her.

    So those clerks are regularly parties to the creation of adulterous** marriages.

    * I suppose if said couple never had sex then maybe technically there’s no adultery.

    ** Adultery is one of the 10 biggies that fundies want posted in every public building and school. Maybe this is just (more) proof that fundies are so stupid that they can’t remember a mere 10 rules that are supposedly straight from their god’s mouth unless they seem them in writing 50 times every day. And it’s not even as if they’re long, difficult rules to begin with: “Thou shalt not kill.” Thou shalt not make graven images.” “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

  • hunter

    I’m waiting for the first lawsuit against a county clerk for violation of the Establishment Clause for refusing to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. Please, let it be soon.

  • Chiroptera

    <a href="http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2014/11/25/montana-clerks-allowed-to-refuse-marriage-licenses-for-gay-couples/#comment-380578"John Pieret, #11:

    I misread the OP; I was thinking that Vigness was a state level official and so Boelter would be bound to follow his decisions.

  • Sastra

    Since then, one deputy clerk has expressed religious objections to granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples while three others have objected on moral grounds…

    What, “moral grounds” which have nothing to do with religion? Betcha they do — if you follow them down.

  • tubi

    Can a zoning board clerk refuse to issue a building permit to a Negro?

    Can an elementary school lunch lady refuse to serve a Jew?

    I’m just asking question here.

  • Randomfactor

    It should be the rule that anyone refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses may do so only if they stop issuing marriage licenses altogether.

    If that means that the general public is less efficiently served to the point where they complain about it, then the explanation should be that “X of our clerks are refusing to issue marriage licenses.” (And nothing about same-sex unions.)

  • matty1

    @15 On the ten commandments

    And it’s not even as if they’re long, difficult rules to begin with

    “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”

    Seems a bit long winded to me and as for difficult, we don’t even known all the ‘things’ on the earth look like so how are we meant to check that what we make doesn’t resemble any of them?

  • vereverum

    @ fifthdentist #15

    * I suppose if said couple never had sex then maybe technically there’s no adultery.

    “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Mat 5:28) seems pretty clear on that point.

    .

    @ matty1 #21

    “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath…bow down to them or worship them…

    I wonder if “anything” include crosses?

  • DrVanNostrand

    @22

    I bet there’s a sect somewhere that shuns crosses for that very reason. I know several protestant sects took the dead Jesus off the crucifix not because it’s morbid and gross, but because it constitutes idol worship.

  • DrVanNostrand

    Damn I wish I could edit that. I wanted to add that it’s always seemed like a bizarre distinction to me. It seems to imply that the golden calf is a no-no, but a golden barn would be OK (or maybe a golden BBQ grill?).