BILLINGS -- As many as four deputies in the Yellowstone County Clerk of District Court's office have indicated their unwillingness to issue wedding licenses for same-sex couples, and for now they won't have to.
Kristie Lee Boelter, clerk of Yellowstone County District Court, said Friday that one deputy has religious objections. That deputy — and the three others who say they also object — won't be required to issue the licenses, she said. Boelter said that decision was made on direction from county Human Relations Director Dwight Vigness after consulting with the County Attorney's office.
Boelter declined to identify the employees.
Twenty deputies work in the office on the seventh floor of the Yellowstone County Courthouse. The office and the hallway outside were filled with emotional people Thursday as same-sex couples were able to tie the knot in Montana for the first time.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled Montana's voter-decided constitutional amendment banning gay marriages was unconstitutional, citing the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On Thursday, Boelter's office issued 16 marriage licenses, 15 for same-sex couples. That set a single-day record, she said.
"I have been told," Boelter said, "that I can't require (deputy clerks) to issue licenses. Right now it's not a problem, because we have enough deputy clerks willing to do this."
That doesn't mean Boelter agrees with the directive.
"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 or we have issues.
"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. "I don't think that's fair."
Vigness said that for the time being, the decision applies directly to only one deputy clerk "on one small aspect of many duties for one person."
"We are just applying the law," he said. "I am as neutral on this whole issue as I possibly can be."
You have free articles remaining.
"What we are talking about are the essential functions of government, and they are still getting done," he said.
One deputy clerk, Darryll Broadbrooks, a 57-year-old gay man, said his colleagues' refusal to issue the licenses hurt, "because being gay is who I am."
Broadbrooks, who grew up in Montana, said he moved back to the state two years ago after spending decades in Seattle to be close to family.
Boelter called Broadbrooks an asset to the office, saying his positive attitude "has given us a needed shot in the arm."
"I rely on a lot of the people I work with. This is my family, and I spend most of my waking hours with these people," Broadbrooks said. "They're people who I thought would be there for me, but now I think maybe some of these people would not be there for me."
"I'm not going to turn around and judge them," Broadbrooks said. "We live in a free country. But I do think marriage equality is a big step forward."
Boelter said the decision not to require deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples relied on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on a number of factors, including religion.
"The majority of the staff is supportive of (the judge's) order and are following it," she said. "I said to (the deputy clerks), 'Guys, we took an oath. This is what I was elected to do, and we will issue licenses to same-sex couples according to the order.'"
Boelter said she believes "there will be a lot of tension in the office because of this. I would like this to blow over, but I don't think it will.
"If you are going to be in turmoil, this is not the job for you," Boelter said. "You have to be thick-skinned to work in this office. We have cases where children are being abused, where women and men are abused in divorce cases. We need to learn to separate our personal feelings from the job."