New York Clerk Refuses To Do Her Job -- Marry Gay Couples

When New York became the latest state to allow same-sex marriage this summer, thousands rejoiced and thousands did not. But a few town clerks were suddenly faced with an inescapable moral and legal dilemma: They were opposed to gay marriage, but their job now required that they authorize them.

This was the predicament facing Rose Marie Belforti in Ledyard, a small town southwest of Auburn. She is the town clerk, one of six elected officials in the local government. She's a religious Christian, and if you call up her dairy farm, the Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery on Black Rock Road, her voice mail tells you "to have a blessed day."

Last month, Belforti sent a letter to the town board, explaining that she would not be signing marriage licenses for same-sex couples. She suggested that those jobs be assigned to a deputy. There is no deputy clerk in Ledyand, but it probably didn't seem so urgent. Fewer than 10 couples a year on average come in to be married.

Then on Aug. 30, a lesbian couple from Florida with a home in the county, Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio, walked into the office. Belforti allegedly told them that they would have to schedule an appointment, as there was no deputy present. It just so happened that Carmichael and DiBiaggio's witness, Arthur Bellinzoni, was on the board of the progressive advocacy group, People for the American Way Foundation.

Suddenly, sleepy Ledyard, home of less than 500 families, became a news story like it never imagined. On Wednesday, the Facebook page of Belforti's dairy farm had only one comment: "This cheese is great! My favorite is the bleu." More recent comments have a different tone: "Boycotting this place. I can't stand Homophobes."

Threat Of Lawsuit

People for the American Way and the law firm Proskauer Rose are now co-representing the couple as they pressure Belforti to do her job -- issue marriage licenses to couples who are eligible -- or resign. After all, a clerk's refusal to provide a license to an eligible applicant for any reason is a misdemeanor under New York state law, according to a July memo sent out by the state Department of Health.

"It's not up to government officials to decide that if they don't like the couple getting married they can make it more difficult for them," said Drew Courtney, a spokesman for People for the American Way. "She has a job to do. That job is to administer the paperwork and licenses of marriages in accordance with the state laws that govern it."

People for the American Way and Proskauer Rose sent a letter to Belforti and the town supervisor Mark Jordan before the board's regular Monday noon meeting, explaining that if Belforti didn't agree to issue same-sex licenses, or resign, then they might pursue legal action. The board was split, and Belforti told local media that she would be staying in her job.

Belforti is now administering no marriage licenses at all. Lenyard's Deputy Supervisor Jim Frisch told The Advocate that this was a short-term attempt to live up to "the spirit of the law." The couple's co-council weren't satisfied, and People for the American Way launched a petition demanding that Belforti authorize all marriage licenses or leave her post. They're still considering a lawsuit. has launched in its own petition, asking that Belforti be fired. Frisch claims that the board has no power to force Belforti, an elected official, out of the job. She'll be up for reelection in November.

Duty vs. Religious Beliefs

Some Christian groups, however, do not believe public officials should have to perform a duty that violates their personal religious beliefs.

Should clerks have the right to refuse marrying gay couples?
Yes1 (33.3%)
No1 (33.3%)
Not sure1 (33.3%)

"In this country we have a number of laws that allow for an accommodation for other Americans, an accommodation of their religious practices, like Title VII, or physical disability, like the Americans With Disabilities Act," said Bruce Hausknecht, a judicial analyst for Citizen Link, the public policy affiliate of Focus on the Family. "It seemed that out of this issue came a call to punish as opposed to accommodate."

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an evangelical lobby which filed suit against the State Senate over the summer, after the same-sex marriage law was passed, claims that state law demands the accommodation of religious observances and practices. The group is connecting Belforti with legal support.

One parallel to this debate is the "conscience clauses" that first appeared in the American law books after Roe v. Wade passed in 1973. In some states, doctors and health care providers are allowed to refuse to perform or assist in abortions, hospitals can prohibit them on their premises, and pharmacists are allowed to refuse to provide emergency contraception. This kind of exception in civil law does not exist right now for gay marriages, although marriage equality legislation in Connecticut and New Hampshire explicitly mentions that clergy and religious organizations do not have to solemnize or celebrate same-sex unions.

"People for the American Way are dedicated to religious freedom," said Courtney. "We're not talking about religious belief. Her church can believe whatever her church wants. But when it comes to civil marriages, civil laws, if she doesn't want to follow the laws on the books she can get another job."

Even without appealing to particular religious protections, there's a possibility that Belforti is within her legal rights. "There's a question as to whether she's breaking the law in New York," said Hausknecht. "A state statute in New York allows individuals to delegate any duty to a deputy." Before this option is considered, however, Ledyard would need to hire one.

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Your Highness

The Federal government has removed religion from state, very well then however the government should not force a redefinition of marriage. Leave it up to each state.

December 11 2011 at 3:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Scott Rose

When the same sex, local property owning couple arrived at the Ledyard Town Hall, they had already with their taxes paid for a service which the clerk then denied them. Adding insult to injury is this "solution" of hiring an additional clerk -- in the end, more tax payer money will get spent to accomplish the same amount of work. Belforti the Bigot is obliging tax payers to subsidize her gay-bashing bigotry.

September 29 2011 at 12:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Scott Rose's comment
Your Highness

Many people own property and also pay taxes, the majority of then don't agree with you.
Since they pay the majority of the tax that would mean they have more of a say hmmm?

December 11 2011 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

AOL presents this story with a bad headline. 1) The clerk WAS willing to do her job....she figured out a way to meet the demand by having a deputy clerk issue the permit. 2) The pair of humans that wanted to marry just did not like the procedure. So the story should have been headlined something like this: "People for the American Way file frivolus lawsuit against...". Personally, I am not for abberant deviant behavior being legitimatized, however I am for the freedom to choose one's pursuit of happiness...but not at the expense of one or significantly all others as is the case of homosexuals wanting to be "married". Civil Union is a good compromise and since homosexuals only represent a SMALL minority of all the people, then it is the appropriate legal vehicle for homosexuals to join legally in some binding way. Of course if homosexuals want to start their own religion, then perhaps they can convince God of the merit of same sex marriage. >>>>>>>>>On a secondary note, perhaps the State of New York legislative body needs to be sued for pushing a minoral view on the majority.

September 20 2011 at 10:37 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to tennispatron's comment

Wishing I could vote your comment up tenfold! I agree 100%!

September 21 2011 at 11:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Scott Rose

**** you. Even when a couple goes to a justice of the piece, we don't say they got civil unioned. We say they got married. We don't refer to their marriage as a civil union. We call it a marriage no matter where it occurred. **** you.

September 29 2011 at 12:35 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Although I think it's great when people stand up for things they believe in, gay marriage isn't hurting anyone. I understand people do not like it, but if you don't like then don't get married to someone of the same sex. Ms. Belforti should not have a government job if she cannot perform the tasks required of her. It is legal and she took on the responsibilities of the job and continued to stay with the job after her knowledge of having to marry same sex couples. She either needs to resign or do her job.

September 20 2011 at 7:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kayleighice's comment

When Ms. Belforti was hired, uniting same-sex couples was not in her job description. She should retain her job just as it always was, and if NY wants to 'marry' gays, then they should post a want ad for another employee who they can hire to do that job. Just because an employer decides to add a 'service' to their list, doesn't mean the employee MUST do it regardless of their beliefs. If my employer was to suddenly become a hit service for gang-bangers, does that mean I should blindly start murdering just because my employer says so, even though it goes against my beliefs as well as the laws of God and man? Just because an organization is going to be making a lot of money on a service, it doesn't necessarly mean it is good and right.

September 21 2011 at 11:37 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Quality's comment
Scott Rose

Take your gay-bashing Bible, stick it down your throat and choke on it. What an ******* you are, comparing murder to marriages.

September 29 2011 at 12:36 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down

it's very simple- do your job or get the hell out so that someone else can do it. you're hired to do a job if you don't want to do it stand aside!

September 20 2011 at 1:18 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to dsweetpea75's comment

She wasn't hired to do THAT job.

September 21 2011 at 11:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And what about President Obama who has refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It is the law of the land and he has ordered his Justice Department not cease defending it. He should do his job or get out?

September 21 2011 at 12:27 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Lezbos and other deviants have no right to be married. They only have the right to exist. And while they are existing, should keep their deviant behaviors to themselves.

September 20 2011 at 1:02 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to crystalminerals's comment

They do have the right to be married and soon it will be in every state.

September 20 2011 at 1:09 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

You must have missed the part where it said that they did have the right to be married. If they did not have the right to be married, then the article would have read "Clerk DOES do her job, doesn't marry gay couples, because it's not her job". Reading Comprehension=F! Bigotry=A+!
crystal participates in class (too much actually), but does not play well with others.

September 20 2011 at 2:20 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Does this clerk refuse to marry previously divorced people on the basis of their religious beliefs? She probably doesn't ask. If she have no problem marrying divorced people, but then say it's against their religious beliefs to marry gay couples, it's called hypocrisy. Pssssst. Ms. public servant? It's a Civil Marriage License, and has nothing to do with your faith in any case. Grow up and uphold the civil laws as you previously swore to do.

September 20 2011 at 1:01 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to up4uinca's comment

Oh my goodness I never thought of that argument up4uinca it just shows what a hypocrite she really is.

September 20 2011 at 1:11 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
Sandra Sleet

May the one who is sinless cast the first stone. Spend time looking at yourself and address your own issues, because we all have plenty of issues to deal with. Also, discrimination exists in everyone, and yet, many of you want to point the finger at someone else, while you are very clearly expressing your own discrimination. You do not want to be called names, and yet, you throw names faster than anyone else. You believe people should have all types of rights and entitlements, and yet, you clearly indicate that this privilege is exclusive only to you and people who agree with you. I have worked with many, many different types of people. I have worked in a government job where the gay VP ensured gay people were given preference to jobs and who made it very difficult to fire gay workers, even when those workers were not doing their job or performing poorly. I have also seen the very attractive young woman get promoted simply on her looks and her willingness to appease the boss. I have worked for men who thought women were incapable of being in management, as well as women who were so insecure that they had to constantly criticize everyone else in order to falsely "build themselves up". The bottom line is that there are issues everywhere and with everyone. When you focus on someone else's issues, it is really because you do not want to deal with your own issues. And for a final thought...a critical and judgmental spirit is simply a cover-up for extreme insecurity and disappointment with this really what you want others to see in you?

September 20 2011 at 12:49 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sandra Sleet's comment

Thats very sweet and she should still be fired for not doing her job like you post points out.

September 20 2011 at 12:53 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
Rick Bauer

All these liberals want to cry "Separation of Church and State" which does not actually appear anywhere in the constitution or bill of rights contrary to what they try to make uneducated people think. But yet they are trying to use legislation to regulate marriage which is a religious ceremony and can only be solemnized by a church.

She should fight them with their own medicine and tell them that "Separation of Church and State" prevents the government from regulating marriage. Let the Supreme Court decide which to throw out....the separation clause they don't truly have or a law regulating a religious ceremony the government has no right to be involved in anyway. Marriage licenses are by their own rules illegal since Separation of Church and State prevents the government from legally licensing or requiring a license for a religious act in the first place.

I have nothing against gay couples....but they do not have special rights either and the government has no right to try to force us to accommodate their wishes. Abolish marriage licenses and let the churches run the marriages same as they used to....and if they are not religious then they don't need a religious ceremony in the first place.

September 20 2011 at 12:30 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Rick Bauer's comment

Good for her, it was a setup from the beginning. They went there because they knew she has morals and was against it. Just one more example of those who CHOOSE to live a immoral and unnatural life style trying to force acceptance of their perversion.

September 19 2011 at 11:34 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wireu's comment

Yeah I bet they just love having their lifestyle judged by bigots all the time.Go back under your rock

September 20 2011 at 12:11 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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