Morton County Resolves Religious Conflict of Interest Peacefully

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The chaos in Kentucky over issuing same sex marriage licenses has been in the news for two weeks.

Kim Davis, the clerk of Rowan County, Ky., was jailed for failing to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling allowing gay couples to legally marry and have that union recognized in all 50 states.

Strongly held beliefs on both sides of the issue aren't exclusive to Kentucky.

In North Dakota, similar situations have occurred, but no one would know it because it was handled in a civil manner.

Firmly held religious convictions and constitutional rights are coexisting because of a Morton County Commission compromise.

No public displays were necessary in Mandan to accommodate a public employee's religious beliefs while balancing the rights of same sex couples.

"Upon consultation with myself, legal counsel and our county commission, the county did authorize the delegation of those duties as allowed North Dakota Century Code," said Wendy Bent, human resources director in Morton County.

Ninety days after the Supreme Court hearing, an employee in the Recorder's Office asked to be relieved from duties involving marriage licenses and ceremony processing because of personal convictions.

"We were able to seamlessly transition those duties," Bent said.

Unlike Rowan County, Ky., Morton County took a less dramatic approach when resolving religious conflicts with an employee while guaranteeing marriage rights for same sex couples.

"The Kim Davis situation it just provides an example of the wrong way to go about reconciling one's employment with one's First Amendment Rights," said Matthew Leidholm, member of Dakota Outright.

Leidholm says marriage is something he's thought about and if that day ever comes, he hopes he and his partner will be treated without prejudice.

"What's important is justice isn't delayed or deferred by those actions and that all residents get the same legal services and protections as their neighbors," Leidholm said.

The deputy recorders who are now processing marriage licenses will receive a 2.5 percent salary increase and any engaged couple in Morton County, no matter their sexual orientations, can apply for and receive a license without being exposed to a dramatic atmosphere.

County recorders in Walsh and Stark counties also had similar religious conflicts of interest.

Both counties voted to do the same thing Morton County did and relegated marriage license responsibilities to other employees.