Watch: Gay Couple Hears Anti-Marriage Rhetoric from County Clerk in Arkansas

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday November 3, 2020

Jarrod Harms and Kirk Bell
Jarrod Harms and Kirk Bell  (Source:Screen cap / 40/29 News)

A same-sex Arkansas couple says they encountered anti-marriage equality bias while applying for their marriage license with a county clerk, reports local news station 40/29.

Longtime couple Kirk Bell and Jarrod Harms, who have been together for more than three decades, had gone to a clerk in Benton County for a marriage license last week when they got more from the clerk than they'd bargained for.

"She chose to offer her own opinions on same-sex unions," Bell recounted. "We chose not to respond, not to engage."

Going on to say that "Neither of us are hurt or angry," Bell nonetheless allowed that, "we were surprised that type of discrimination would rear its head in 2020."

Added Harms, "When those thoughts came out, I was dumbfounded. I wasn't able to respond except to say, 'Okay.' "

News station KNWA offered more details, recounting that the clerk told the couple that "same-sex marriages are wrong" - even though, the clerk said, her own daughter "has a same-sex partner, and they have kids," the report said.

The clerk went on to add, "I just don't think same-sex marriage is right."

Bell pointed out that marriage equality has been legal for more than five years. He and Harms contacted the Benton County Clerk, Betsy Harrell, to let her know about the experience they'd had.

Bell told 49/29, "We just want to ensure that the proper training is done so that personal opinions aren't warranted when someone is trying to get a marriage license.

"More than anything we want to expose it and bring attention to it so that the next couple in line doesn't have to hear those remarks," Bell added.

Harrell told the couple that the clerk in question had been suspended without pay while the incident is investigated. In a statement, Harrell said that the conduct the clerk displayed toward the men was "unacceptable," and that the clerk's remarks "do not represent the policies of my office."

Harrell added, "I am incredibly sorry for what they experienced this week."

Saying that "appropriate disciplinary action with the employee involved has been taken," Harrell went on to say, "Our employees are well aware of our anti-discrimination policies. Failure to treat all customers with dignity, respect, and professionalism will not be tolerated."

The men told the media that they returned later in the week "to complete the marriage license and were met with a welcoming employee and an affirming environment," KNWA reported.

Watch the 40/29 news clip at this link.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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