Conscience Protection for Maine Clerks
Following November 2012's citizen-initiated referendum to redefine marriage in Maine, marriage within that state will now include same-sex couples. In light of this, clerks with religious and/or conscience objections to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples have found themselves in a quandary.
Some have wrongly concluded that the marriage redefinition legislation leaves clerks with no choice but to issue licenses, regardless of their deeply held convictions. After all, the Maine Municipal Association recently issued a memo stating that all clerks must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples seeking them. But it ignored that Maine law governing clerks provides a mechanism to accommodate the clerks' rights of conscience while at the same time respecting the ability of applicants to obtain a marriage license.
Clerks should know that the law allows them to fulfill their sworn duties without violating their consciences. Under the Maine Human Rights Act, municipalities are duty-bound to recognize and accommodate the conscience rights of all their employees, and clerks are no exception.
In its November 15, 2012 press release, Alliance Defending Freedom explained that Maine law authorizes clerks to delegate this task in order to respect their rights of conscience. ADF is now advising those clerks that they may delegate responsibility for issuing the licenses to deputies or assistants who don't have conscience-based objections to doing it.
Clerks should know that Maine law does not require them to choose between their consciences and their livelihoods.
Ultimately, what's at stake here is religious freedom, which is something no American should be forced to give up. And certainly no American should lose his or her job for exercising that freedom.
To be clear, Alliance Defending Freedom isn't denying that a clerk has an obligation to see that a marriage license is issued to a same-sex "couple." We are simply communicating the fact that the law provides more than one way for clerks to handle this situation.
Thus, while Maine law requires clerks to issue marriage licenses, the law also affords them the right to appoint a deputy or assistant clerk to fulfill those requests when necessary to accommodate freedom of conscience rights.
And that is our point in its entirety -- there need be no quandary, because Maine law provides a mechanism that protects the rights of conscience while ensuring the professional and faithful discharge of its clerks' duties.
Byron Babione is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom (www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org).