by Jeremy Leaming
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a marriage equality measure into law this summer it included language allowing religious institutions and other nonprofits to refuse to wed same-sex couples, but did not include an out for public officials, such as town clerks.
But as The New York Times recently noted the town clerk in Ledyard, N.Y. is refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, citing evangelical Christianity as a bar against performing her official duties.
“For me to participate in the same-sex marriage application process I don’t feel is right,” Rose Marie Belforti told The Times. “God doesn’t want me to do this, so I can’t do what God doesn’t want me to do, just like I can’t steal, or any of the other things that God doesn’t want me to do.”
Belforti’s refusal to issue a marriage license to Deirdre DiBiaggio and Katie Carmichael, however, did not set well with the couple of ten years, who told the newspaper they were not going to let the discrimination stand.
The national civil liberties group, People For the American Way Foundation, and the New York law firm, Proskauer Rose LLP have lodged a letter with Ledyard town officials calling on them to force Belforti to start issuing marriage licenses pursuant to the state’s Marriage Equality Act, or resign her position.
The letter states, in part, “Ms. Belfoti is no longer issuing any marriage licenses – an essential duty of her elected office – at the town’s direction, or, at a minimum, with the town’s acquiescence. The actions of both Ms. Belforti and the town are in violation of New York law.”
The letter also includes a memorandum issued in July by the New York State Department of Health that states, “Under New York State Law the town or city clerk must provide a license to an applicant who meets all marriage requirements for New York State. It is a misdemeanor violation if the clerk refuses to do so for any reason.”
The Religious Right organization, which James Dobson helped launch, called the Alliance Defense Fund, is defending Belforti. ADF, The Times reports, is “arguing that state law requires New York to accommodate her religious beliefs.”
PFAW Foundation and Gov. Cuomo say the state’s Marriage Equality Act includes no such demand.
Michael Keegan, PFAW Foundation president, said, “Elected officials can’t pick and choose which laws they’ll follow. The state of New York did the right thing by offering the protections of marriage to same-sex couples. It’s not up to individual officials in particular towns to decide whether or not they’ll adhere to the law.”
In the summer, Gov. Cuomo said something, similar. “When you enforce the laws of the state, you don’t get to pick and choose the laws.”