ADF offers guidance to Wis., Ind., Utah officials responsible for issuing marriage licenses

ADF reaffirms constitutionally protected freedom of conscience of clerks
Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Attorney sound bite:  Kellie Fiedorek

WASHINGTON — Alliance Defending Freedom issued legal memos Tuesday and Wednesday that advise Wisconsin, Indiana, and Utah 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, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia, 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 Wisconsin, Indiana, and Utah.

“No one in America should be forced to choose between following their conscience and serving their 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.

“This should resolve the situation and facilitate the interests all parties’ interests,” 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.”

“In addition, ensuring that clerks are not forced to issue licenses contrary to their conscience is consistent with Title VII’s requirements that employers, including governmental employers, must reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs or practices of their employees,” the memos add. “In other words, an employer must make reasonable adjustments to the work environment, or to the employee’s job requirements, to ensure that the employee’s ability to maintain his or her religious conscience remains unimpeded. Clerks are certainly no exception to this rule.”

Any clerks who face legal difficulties or would like legal advice regarding their duties as they pertain to issuing marriage licenses can contact ADF free of charge at (800) 835-5233.

  • 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.

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