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Lawsuit: County worker fired for objecting to same-sex marriage

July 23, 2015

A former deputy clerk from southern Indiana says in a federal lawsuit she was fired for refusing to process a same-sex couple's marriage application.

Linda G. Summers said in the suit filed last week that her firing by Harrison County Clerk Sally Whitis in December violated her civil and religious rights, and cited Leviticus, a book of the Bible that condemns homosexuality. Summers was fired last year after a federal court overturned Indiana's gay marriage ban.

"She is very upset and certainly believes that it's appropriate to vindicate her motivation," said Richard Masters, one of Summers' attorneys in the suit, which was filed in the Southern District of Indiana. Summers, who could not be reached for comment, is seeking financial compensation for lost earnings.

Both Whitis and an attorney for Harrison County declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Conservatives have predicted a deluge of cases like Summers' in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last month to legalize gay marriage nationwide, with either side trying to define where the right to exercise religious beliefs end and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights begin.

"You are going to see these conflicts between religious freedom and the politics of homosexuality," said Micah Clark, of the conservative American Family Association of Indiana.

After the state's ban was struck down in October, Summers alleges Whitis sent an email to employees mandating that same-sex marriage applications be processed "even though it may be against your personal beliefs."

"We are only doing the paperwork and not performing their ceremony," Whitis wrote, according to the suit.

Reached by phone Thursday, Whitis said: "I have referred that to an attorney and at this point I should probably not make a comment."

Masters said Whitis could have accommodated Summers instead of firing her, because two other deputy clerks volunteered to step in and process gay marriage applications if another employee had a religious objection.

An AP-GfK poll published this week found the U.S. is almost evenly divided over whether local officials should be required to issue marriage licenses when they religiously object.

Lawmakers in several states — Indiana included —proposed laws this spring to carve out additional religious protections. Indiana's law, as initially passed and signed by Gov. Mike Pence, was criticized for possibly leading to discrimination and received backlash from businesses, leading lawmakers to change the language.

Masters doesn't plan on taking advantage of Indiana's new religious objections law, saying there are stronger ones on the books.

"I don't think we need it," Masters said. "This is First Amendment exercise of religion."

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