Just in time for the 2015 legislative session, Yellowstone County Commissioners appear to be leading the charge to rebrand homophobia as “religious liberty.” A Yellowstone County Clerk Kristie Boelter has become a pawn in that apparent ploy after one her her employees claimed a religious exemption and is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Yellowstone County Commissioners have sent Ms. Boelter a letter telling her that if she doesn’t allow the employee who is claiming a “religions exemption” to refuse to issue marriage licenses, that the county will not defend her if she is sued. But because Ms. Boelter has already agreed to accommodate that employee, the commissioner’s actions are worse than unnecessary–they reek of political posturing.
The commissioners, which include Republicans Jim Reno and John Ostland and Democrat Bill Kennedy, appear to be publicly chastising County Clerk Kristie Boelter as a media opportunity to position themselves as defending anti-gay actions under the guise of principled dissent. Think of the tiresome ravings on right-wing radio and Fox News about the baker who refused to make a cake for two women who were getting married. Based on this cake incident, right-wing state legislators in other states are clambering to enshrine a right to discriminate in state law.
When a Montana Court first struck down Montana’s marriage ban as unconstitutional Belter told the Billings Gazette that
“It is my responsibility to uphold the law and follow the law,” Boelter said Friday morning. “My directive to deputy clerks who took the same oath I did is to follow the law…In my opinion, some of those same religions (objecting to the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples) also disagree with divorce, and yet we deal with many divorce cases in this office,” Boelter said.
Boelter makes a fair point, which she backs up in a letter to the editor here. The state’s largest newspaper, the Billings Gazette, agreed with her in an editorial. Ms. Boelter pointed out to the county that they are more likely to be sued for refusing equal treatment of all couples than over a deputy clerk refusing to do his or her job.
It’s also interesting to note that we aren’t hearing from other clerks in other cities about employees who are refusing to issue licenses. Butte clerks, rather than refuse to do their job, they say they take their jobs very seriously and will simply do their duties and serve all Montanans equally. Others are just quietly doing their jobs without fanfare.
Boelter and other clerks across Montana are to be commended for doing their jobs to serve all members of the public – not used as political pawns by politicians eager to pander to tiny pockets of anti-gay interest groups. If the Yellowstone County Commissioners wish to express anti-gay beliefs, they should hang signs over their own places of business that read, “LBGT citizens not welcome here” and leave offices created to serve the public and funded by taxpayers out of it.