Clerk candidates weigh in on marriage licenses

Candidates running for clerk of the Shenandoah County Circuit Court say they would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Democratic Party candidate Adam Sharp publicly called out his four challengers last week for their apparent silence on the matter. Sharp told a large crowd at a candidates’ forum Thursday that he would issue licenses if elected. Sharp insinuated that his challengers’ silence must mean they might not issue licenses as required by the Supreme Court. Sharp claimed also that none of the candidates had expressed their views one way or the other on their campaign materials.

It turns out the four other candidates say they would issue licenses to same-sex couples. Republican David George and independent candidates Tammy Heishman, Sarona Irvin and Lisa Long all said in recent interviews following the forum that they would issue licenses.

“My answer is ‘yes,’ I would issue the marriage licenses,” George said Monday.

Asked how he would handle a situation in which a deputy clerk refused to issue a license, George said “my response to that would be that I really have no comment on some hypothetical personnel question that may or may not happen in the future. But I would ensure that the marriage licenses are issued.”

Heishman said Friday, “I would not have a problem because that is what I would be elected to do. It’s the law and I have to abide by the law.

“If that’s the law, my personal opinion should not get involved in that,” Heishman added. “And even now, like if someone comes in my office and if any of us has a kind of problem with someone, I could get another deputy to do it, deputy clerk. But my whole office as a whole would not deny anyone that.”

Heishman said if a deputy clerk took issue with issuing a license she would talk with the employee and explain that such a task is required.

Irvin defended the current clerk, Denise Estep, who is retiring at the end of her term, as upholding the law.

“We treat everybody with the same respect that they deserve and we do not judge whether they’re right or wrong for going for those marriage licenses because that is not our decision,” Irvin said. “The law says that we issue them and we issue them in the same manner that we issue them to a man and a woman, two women, two men, whatever the case may be.”

Irvin said she would, if elected, require her deputies to follow the law. Irvin said she wouldn’t immediately fire a deputy who refused to issue a license to a same-sex couple. Irvin added that she would talk to the deputy about the matter and if he or she still refused, that employee “couldn’t stay,” noting it would be no different than if the worker said he or she wouldn’t issue a concealed handgun permit or passport.

Long echoed the other candidates.

“I feel that when you take the oath of office that you have to uphold the Constitution and when the law tells you that you need to do that, that is part of your job duties and it needs to be done,” Long said.

When asked how she would respond if a deputy refused to issue a license to a same-sex couple, Long said she understood it might come down to an employee’s personal beliefs but added, “I still feel that they need to perform all of the duties that are required by the deputy clerk and, if they would not be able to do that, I don’t feel that they could be a deputy clerk.”

Sharp warned voters and people at the forum that a candidate who does not issue licenses would follow the path of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to follow the high court’s ruling. The question also was not asked of the candidates at the forum.

“I’m very glad to hear … that everyone has said that they’ll issue marriage licenses to eligible couples,” Sharp said Monday. “That’s a relief. I think it’s important that voters know that especially in light of other clerks in other states who have not done that.”

Sharp said candidates who say they plan to issue marriage licenses if elected should state this on their websites and campaign materials.

“You have a situation where clerks choose to defy the Supreme Court and are sued,” Sharp added, noting that such lawsuits can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. “I think that needs to be stated pretty clearly, whether or not a candidate is planning on using the office to take a personal stance that’s going to cost everybody money because, in the end, they’re going to have to give in or go to jail.”

Asked how he would respond if a deputy clerk refused to perform the duty, Sharp said he “would not fire anyone for hesitating to sign a marriage license ’cause I think the buck stops with the clerk of court.”

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com