Linda Summers is suing Harrison County, Indiana for unlawful termination of employment. The reason that Ms. Summers’ employment with the county ended (according to her complaint in federal court) is because she refused to process marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
Ms. Summers is claiming that the county discriminated against her by not permitting her to discriminate. According to the complaint, this started last October after Indiana’s Supreme Court concluded that the state was required to recognize same-sex marriage. Soon after the decision, an email was sent to employees stating that the
clerk’s office must process all marriage applications. The email went on to say “Even though it may be against your personal beliefs, we are
required by state law to process their applications. We are only doing
the paperwork and not performing their ceremony.”
According to Summers’ complaint (see below):
Plaintiff, Linda Summers has a sincerely held religious belief, based upon
the tenants <sic> of her faith and biblical teaching, such as Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:26-27, I
Cor. 6:9-10; and I Tim 1:9-10, that it is a sin for
persons of the same sex to engage in sexual
relations and, based upon Genesis 2:18-25, and other biblical authority, that persons of
the same sex cannot and should not be morally or legally recognized as husband and wife,
and that God will judge individual Christians, as well as the society of which they are a
part, who condone or institute same sex marriages.
In December Summers was asked to process a same-sex marriage application. In response she refused and submitted a “religious accommodation request” to County Clerk Sally Whitis claiming she has “a sincerely held religious belief against same-sex marriages” and “that being required to process marriage licenses for such couples violated her religious beliefs based upon Biblical teaching.” I suspect that she was getting advice from a local lawyer. Summers was terminated.
According to the complaint; “The foregoing discharge occurred without any attempt by the defendant to accommodate plaintiff and her religious beliefs, despite the fact that plaintiff made her sincerely-held beliefs known to defendant Whitis.” Summer’s lawyer concludes that she was discharged because of her religion in violation of federal law citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) which refers to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The county has not filed its reply brief. This could become an important case. The question boils down to whether or not processing the application constitutes an undue burden on the free exercise of religion. I would think that the county clerk drew the appropriate line in her October email. Processing paperwork is not performing the ceremony.