ADF offers guidance to Va., Okla. officials responsible for issuing marriage licenses

ADF reaffirms constitutionally protected freedom of conscience of clerks
Monday, October 13, 2014

Attorney sound bite:  Kellie Fiedorek

WASHINGTON — Alliance Defending Freedom issued legal memos Friday that advise Virginia and Oklahoma clerks responsible for issuing marriage licenses that they do not have to issue certain licenses where doing so conflicts with their religious or moral beliefs.

The counsel is similar to that which ADF provided previously in legal memos for officials in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington. The memos advised officials who have conscience-based objections to issuing certain marriage licenses that they can lawfully delegate responsibility for issuing those licenses to deputies or assistants who don’t have the same objections. The same is true for officials in Virginia and Oklahoma.

“No one in America should be forced to choose between following their conscience and serving his or her employer,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Kellie Fiedorek. “The First Amendment protects the right to basic freedoms, including the freedom to live and work according to one’s conscience. These freedoms are guaranteed to every American, including those issuing marriage licenses.”

The legal memos explain that the government can respect the faith and conscience of officials while providing no impediment to carrying out the law. As the memos state, clerks whose sincere religious or moral beliefs prevent them from issuing certain marriage licenses “have the ability to appoint a deputy to perform that task” under state law. In Virginia, a clerk can also ask a judge of the circuit court if no deputy clerk is available.

“This should resolve the situation and facilitate the interests of all parties,” the memos explain. “Should a clerk encounter resistance to their efforts to resolve a conflict, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures that neither state nor county officials may impede clerks’ free exercise of religion.”

The memos add that if any clerks face legal difficulties or would like legal advice regarding their duties as they pertain to issuing marriage licenses, they can contact Alliance Defending Freedom free of charge.

  • Pronunciation guide: Fiedorek (Fih-DOHR’-eck)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

# # # | Ref. 6838, 41559