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New AU legal memo debunks religious right claims on same-sex marriage.

People who work for the government have no legal right to refuse services to same-sex couples in states where marriage equality is the law, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says in a recent legal memorandum.

Americans United issued the memo Dec. 1 in response to claims being made by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Religious Right legal group based in Arizona. The ADF has been sending letters to states where marriage equality is legal, insisting that clerks and other government officials who oppose gay marriage don't have to serve same-sex couples.

"Government's first duty is to treat all people equally," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "If same-sex marriage is legal in a state, clerks and municipal officials must serve all comers. It's part and parcel of doing your job."

AU's memo, which was distributed to officials in states where same-sex marriage is legal, asserts that same-sex couples who are turned away by government clerks would face an undue hardship.

"A religious exemption that would allow a clerk to summarily dismiss a same-sex couple to another counter, or to another building altogether, would impose substantial practical and dignitary harms on the affected individuals," the memo reads. "Not only would the couple face the logistical harm of undue delay, but they also would be subjected to the sting of unequal and inferior treatment."

The memo points out that allowing this sort of discrimination would clearly violate the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

Americans United is offering to provide pro bono representation to any governmental entity that is sued by a clerk who is denied a religious exemption from a directive to treat same-sex couples no differently than opposite-sex ones.

The ADF has provided memos to clerks in Virginia, Oklahoma, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and Washington, explaining that clerks have a "religious freedom" right to skip out on their required duties and ask another employee to issue a marriage license if they have a sincere objection to same-sex marriage.

"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 in a media statement. "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."

But Americans United countered that the First Amendment doesn't give any government employees carte blanche to treat anyone as if they are a lesser person.

"The ADF is employing a bogus religious freedom argument to shield a crude form of discrimination, bigotry and bias against LGBT Americans," said Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan. "AU's memo explains why this won't work."

Writing about AU's memo for Slate, Mark Joseph Stern observed, "The ADF looks at the law through the fisheye lens of anti-gay animus, and the results of its analysis have always been correspondingly warped. For years, this bias made the group's arguments appear offensive. At this point, however, the ADF is merely embarrassing itself."

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Title Annotation:PEOPLE & EVENTS
Publication:Church & State
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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