Benton County employee suspended over same-sex couple discrimination

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BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A local couple faced unwelcome comments while applying for legal union.

Kirk Bell and Jarrod Harms have been partners for over 30 years. They went to the Benton County Clerk’s Office Tuesday to apply for a marriage license and were met with behavior that they said was discriminatory.

According to Bell, the clerk’s office employee, who has not been named, told he and Harms that she believed that, “same sex marriages are wrong.”

The couple claims the employee continued, saying, “It’s nothing against you… My grown daughter has a same sex partner, and they have kids, but I just don’t think same sex marriage is right.”

Bell said Friday that Benton County Clerk Betsy Harrell responded to their emails detailing the discriminatory behavior. Harrell told them the employee was put on suspended leave without pay.

The County Clerk later released a statement regarding the incident involving Bell and Harms.

“The comments made to Mr. Bell and Mr. Harms were unacceptable and do not represent the policies of my office. I am incredibly sorry for what they experienced this week. When I became aware of the situation, I immediately expressed our sincerest apologies to Mr. Bell and Mr. Harms, and appropriate disciplinary action with the employee involved has been taken,” Harrell said, “Our employees are well aware of our anti-discrimination policies. Failure to treat all customers with dignity, respect, and professionalism will not be tolerated.  We look forward to serving the couple as they receive their marriage license.”

Bell and Harms said they, “returned to the Roger’s annex the next day to complete the marriage license and were met with a welcoming employee and an affirming environment.”

Same-sex marriage has been legal at the federal level since 2015.

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