CHARLESETON, W.Va. -- Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole was surprised when she learned she had been named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit.
"I haven't received a summons yet. I've never been sued before, so I'm not sure what the protocol is at this point," she said.
Cole and Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick are the defendants in the marriage equality lawsuit filed by national organization Lambda Legal and its partners, Tinney Law Firm and Jenner and Block, on behalf of two Huntington same-sex couples and one St. Albans couple and their child.
Lambda and its partners argue that West Virginia's marriage ban unfairly discriminates against same-sex couples and their children, and sends a purposeful message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are second-class citizens, according to Beth Littrell, an attorney for Lambda Legal.
"It's my understanding they felt the law violates their right, and if that's the issue -- I've not thoroughly read the suit -- the county clerks are under oath to comply to and uphold the law in West Virginia," Cole said. "If their issue is with the law itself, then I can't help but feel it should be directed at the state and the ones who actually make the laws, rather than elected officials who are charged with upholding those laws."
Cole said both Huntington couples listed in the suit had attempted to file for marriage licenses before -- but that if she had issued them, she would have been committing a misdemeanor under state law.
"This came to light last year, when a group of same-sex couples were coming in to apply for marriage licenses as a nonviolent, very peaceful demonstration," Cole said. "We were aware of it prior to them coming in, so I sought the opinion of our prosecuting attorney to see whether I could actually issue them a marriage license. I'd read the law and I knew what my interpretation of it was, but I'm not an attorney, by any stretch of the imagination."
Cabell's prosecuting attorney gave Cole a written decision with the section of the code that applied to same-sex marriages, and she provided each couple with a copy of the law.
"It was very peaceful; they were great people," Cole said.