Government Clerks Have No License To Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples, Americans United Tells States

New Legal Memorandum Debunks Arguments Proffered By Religious Right Group Alliance Defending Freedom

People who work for the government have no legal right to refuse services to same-sex couples in states where marriage equality is the law, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says in a legal memorandum released today.

Americans United issued the memo in response to claims being made by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Religious Right legal group based in Arizona. The ADF has been sending letters to states where marriage equality is legal, insisting that clerks and other government officials who oppose gay marriage don’t have to serve same-sex couples.

“Government’s first duty is to treat all people equally,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “If same-sex marriage is legal in a state, clerks and municipal officials must serve all comers. It’s part and parcel of doing your job.”

AU’s memo, which is being distributed to officials in states where same-sex marriage is legal, asserts that same-sex couples who are turned away by government clerks would face an undue hardship.

“A religious exemption that would allow a clerk to summarily dismiss a same-sex couple to another counter, or to another building altogether, would impose substantial practical and dignitary harms on the affected individuals,” the memo reads. “Not only would the couple face the logistical harm of undue delay, but they also would be subjected to the sting of unequal and inferior treatment.”

The memo points out that allowing this sort of discrimination would clearly violate the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

Americans United is offering to provide pro bono representation to any governmental entity that is sued by a clerk who is denied a religious exemption from a directive to treat same-sex couples no differently than opposite-sex ones.

“The ADF is employing a bogus religious freedom argument to shield a crude form of discrimination, bigotry and bias against LGBT Americans,” said Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan. “AU’s memo explains why this won’t work.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.