In the middle of West Virginia, there is a little town called Glenville. It is the county seat of Gilmer County, which has approximately 9,000 residents. The town consists of a state college, three gas stations, a grocery store that rarely keeps groceries stocked, a McDonald’s, a few local eateries, the courthouse, the one-room library and one stoplight.
Nestled in the hills and “hollers”, it is not a hub of commerce. Normally in the case of small towns, what they lack in business is made up for in beauty, quiet and the kindness of its residents. While Glenville has all three, there is an undercurrent of bigotry that comes about from decades of living secluded from outsiders. That undercurrent is kept flowing by the town’s deep roots in religion.
For a county with less than 9,000 residents, it sure does have a lot of churches. The Baptist church and the Methodist church are practically across Main Street from one another. The Catholic church is less than a mile east of those. The Episcopalian church is about a mile west of the stoplight. However, that is far from the only churches in the county. Like many very religious small towns, the locals distrust anyone who strays outside their preconceived, indoctrinated norms.
Two women found this to be true when they applied for a marriage license at the Gilmer County courthouse last year. West Virginia legalized same-sex marriage in October 2014. However, when Amanda Abramovich and Samantha Brookover approached the deputy county clerk, Debbie Allen, to get their license, their experience became much less than happy.
According to the couple, Ms. Allen ranted at them for several minutes, in part saying,
[Their union] is an abomination to God and God would deal with them.
The women, who are high school sweethearts, were naturally sickened, angry and hurt. One of their most special days were ruined by a condescending deputy clerk who had no right to bring her personal religion into the workplace. When Brookovers’s mother called the courthouse to complain to the County Clerk, Jean Butcher, Butcher told her that her religious beliefs echoed Allen’s – the women got their marriage license, which was “the main thing”.
Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia said,
West Virginia is 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. The behavior of the Gilmer County clerks violates 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.
Americans United agrees and filed a lawsuit Monday against the county and the clerks as part of its “Protect Thy Neighbor” initiative, which seeks to stop religion-based discrimination against LGBT people and others. Hopefully, this organization will give the county motivation to do what is constitutionally right.
This just goes to show that we need organizations like the ACLU and Americans United to protect all of our rights – even the rights of those living in Small Town, USA.