Posted 9/15/15 (Tue)
By Cecile Krimm
Officials authorized to perform civil unions in Williams and Divide counties stand ready to issue same sex marriage licenses and say they’ll treat a same sex couple the same as any other.
Neither Williams County Auditor Beth Innis nor Divide County Clerk of Court/County Recorder Chrissy Running has been called yet to preside over such a union, but if they are, they said they’ll deal with the parties the same as any other.
“I would, but nobody wants one,” said Running, at least not so far.
Despite several inquiries, said Innis, no one has been issued a same sex license in Williams County either.
The Supreme Court ruling allowing same sex unions was made on June 26.
Running and Innis said they disagree with a stand taken by Kim Davis, the Kentucky woman who was released from jail last week after declining to issue the licenses in her county due to religious convictions.
“She’s entitled to her opinion as a human, but if she doesn’t want to do her job she shouldn’t be in her position,” said Running.
Innis said she isn’t hired to make religious judgements but to uphold the law.
If she were to issue a same sex license, “I’m not doing it in God’s eyes, I’m doing it in the State’s eyes.”
In fact, said Running, she declines to add scripture or religious language heterosexual couples have asked her to use in the past, because she doesn’t feel qualified beyond her state authorization to legalize a union.
“I don’t believe God has given me that. The State of North Dakota says ‘you are married,’” said Running, and that’s all.
“It’s a civil thing. It’s just your basic ‘average Joe’ wedding ceremony. No bells, no whistles -- that’s me,” said Running.
If couples want more than that, she suggests they go to a church or contact a priest or pastor.
In two years on the job, Running has been called to marry only four or five couples. Some months, she doesn’t issue a single license.
In Williams County, where the population is much higher, Innis sees a lot more traffic. Usually when a couple wants to be married at the courthouse, one of the district judges performs the ceremony. Innis only gets involved if the judges are not available and there is a pressing time issue.
She will allow couples to light a unity candle or share a reading, but she, too, is uncomfortable sharing scripture.
“I won’t do scripture because I’m not a minister,” said Innis.
Innis said she’s talked with her staff and no one has voiced concerns about issuing a same sex license.
Running said she has not received a single call from anyone in the community who questions or disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling, though she has had about a dozen calls from activists wanting to confirm the licenses are available in Divide County.
Innis considers the same sex marriage ruling as groundbreaking as women getting the vote or the Civil Rights movement. Years ago, said Innis, a union such as that between her Native American father and Caucasian mother may have been a problem.
“Who gives me the right to judge?” Innis asked. “That’s a God decision.”
Running noted the change in the application process itself over the years. At one time, she said, North Dakota required blood tests and people had to declare their percentage of Caucasian blood -- something few people would consider appropriate today.
Looking at one of the old documents, Running said, “Some of them are so interesting,” but any number of issues that used to bar people from obtaining a marriage license today have been struck down or invalidated.
Innis said what the ruling really does is grant legal protection to committed life partners -- such as the ability to make end of life decisions together or receive health insurance benefits.
“It’s for reasons like this that we did have to get a Supreme Court ruling,” said Innis, because some basic human rights were left unprotected.
Bottom line, said Innis, if the law required her to perform a function she found objectionable, she would ask someone else in the office to perform that service.
Running goes even further.
“It’s a free country. If I don’t want to do my job, I could quit.”