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NY Clerk May Be Sued for Imposing Religious Test for Marriage Licenses

Jim Burroway

September 16th, 2011

As Rob Tisinai argued, that should be the headline over every article describing the decision of Rose Marie Belforti, the town clerk in Ledyard, New York, to impose her personal religious test on every person who wants to get married in her town. Last month, she sent a letter to the town board announcing her decision not to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples. On August 30, a lesbian couple applied for a license, but were turned away because a deputy who had been assigned the task of doing Belfori’s job for her wasn’t available.

People for the American Way sent a letter to Belforti and town supervisor Mark Jordan demanding that the board direct Belforti to do her job or resign. If they refuse to do that, the town and clerk could face a lawsuit compelling the town and clerk follow New York law:

“Elected officials don’t get to pick and choose what laws they follow,” said PFAW spokesman Drew Courtney. “A county clerk that doesn’t like hunting doesn’t get to not issue hunting licenses. People for the American Way will be the first ones to defend her freedom of conscience, but she signed up to do a job. If she doesn’t want to do that job, she should resign.”

Belforti is an elected official, and it appears the board does not has the authority to force her to resign. Clerks in two other New York counties have already stepped down.

Comments

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JohnAGJ
September 16th, 2011 | LINK

“People for hte American Way sent a letter”

For wont of an “a” this could have been a Freudian slip! ;-)

Joe in California
September 16th, 2011 | LINK

Burn her to the stake! She’s a witch!
….
No, but seriously, a law suit is in the wings folks. Does this town want to defend the clerk or the law of the land?

darkmoonman
September 16th, 2011 | LINK

Fire her ass for refusing to do her job. Her religion conflicts with her duties? Then she should move to another job.

Johnson
September 16th, 2011 | LINK

Can’t stand the Heat? Get out of the kitchen. Simple.

Timothy Kincaid
September 16th, 2011 | LINK

I don’t think we serve our cause well with contrived situations. It only makes real discrimination seem petty.

Obviously the lesbian couple chose Ledyard so as to be turned down. It strains credibility to think that this couple truly wanted Ledyard as the site for their vows and promises. Or that they wanted Rose Marie’s cow as a witness.

And as for the indignity of “please schedule an appointment”, I fail to see any great harm. Pretty much everywhere in the nation (Nevada excluded) you have to plan in advance in order to marry.

Sure Rose Marie is thwarting the law. But until this couple decided to make a case out of it, she was the one looking like an idiot. Now she gets to be a martyr.

Let’s fight real battles, not present ourselves as obnoxious assholes trying to create conflict and stir up dissent.

We need to grow beyond “well she shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it!!!” and let Rose Marie be the bigot she is. We won. It won’t kill us to leave Rose Marie and her cow alone. And people will be less likely to fight against us if we are gracious and decent in our victory.

Regan DuCasse
September 16th, 2011 | LINK

Only up to a point, I can agree Tim.
We can always count on the opposition to use hyperbole and hysteria to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

I can agree we shouldn’t do the same.
Sometimes even making an appointment isn’t an option, depending on the size of a town’s public accommodation and it’s available personnel.

Considering how many states slammed the door shut to marry, I can understand there is more urgency and less luxury of waiting for gay couples.

In Ms. Beforti’s case, she might be considered a martyr in the minds of the anti gay.
But a court proceeding might land some important facts she and her supporters will have to be responsible for.

1. There would be proof that their religious objections are selective and inconsistent.

2. That their religious tests are invisible to prospective heteros who ALSO meet that test, and impossible for gay OR straight couples to know beforehand.

3. That the job is to serve ALL the public, not just the public she’s comfortable with. It’s a public office and public job. Period. The inconsistency in her applying her duties proves she’s not consistent in her religious convictions, NOR her appointed duties.

She’s created a problem for her employer, as well as the public they serve.
And a person who is a PROBLEM at work, and causes them unnecessarily for that public, can’t do her job.

I support the courts shedding a light on these bullshit tactics certain religious people pull, even if the INCIDENT seems petty.
The greater issue is calling out who needs to be called out for the hypocrites they are.

Jim Burroway
September 16th, 2011 | LINK

Obviously the lesbian couple chose Ledyard so as to be turned down.

How is this obvious? The women own a home in Cayuga County, where Ledyard is located, making the selection an obious one. And the clerk was right there available, just not for them. I don’t see any contriance here.

Erin
September 16th, 2011 | LINK

I agree with Jim. Taking straight folks in to be married right away and making the gay couple drive to another county or wait until later in the week for another employee is not equal protection. Where do these “religious objections” end? What if there were many more clerks like her, to the point a gay couple had to drive across the state to get married? It’s total bs. Timothy, you can side with the bigots all you want. They will paint themselves the martyrs no matter how reasonable our requests are. They will only be satisfied when we are once again made criminals for being gay. I don’t care if it comes out that this all really just was a stunt to prove a point. The point is valid and needed to be made.

RWG
September 16th, 2011 | LINK

@Erin: I don’t believe the couple was seeking to be married on the spot, only to apply for a license, which they were refused. Rose Marie is putting the town on the hook for legal consequences and costs, as well as possible legal action from the State of New York. I hope she has some money stashed offshore someplace, because by the time the lawyers get done with her, in the civil actions sure to come, she won’t be able to afford retirement or likely even to keep her house.

San Diego Rob
September 16th, 2011 | LINK

As an elected official it is her duty to uphold the law, and I believe the law states that marriage equality exists in NY. The state of NY should sue her as well.

Lymis
September 17th, 2011 | LINK

In every one of these discussions, I think it is important to make a distinction about religious freedom and religious accommodation between requiring someone to actually do something that conflicts with their religion and requiring someone to allow someone else to do something that they personally disapprove of for religious reasons.

Requiring an Orthodox Jew to sample non-kosher food would be forcing them to violate their religion, but demanding that they issue a license to or perform an inspection of a non-kosher restaurant isn’t, even if they wouldn’t feel free to patronize the restaurant.

This woman was asked to check ID and documentation and file some government paperwork. She was not asked to marry another woman, or have sex with another woman, or even to conduct a religiously binding ceremony for a same-sex couple. She is welcome to feel that the two women are not married in the eyes of God. She is not welcome to claim her religion forbids her from typing.

But we don’t do anyone any favors by buying into the idea that she was somehow asked to do something in violation of her personal religious beliefs. I know of no religion that prohibits filing. And if there is one, it would be neutral with regards what precisely is being filed.

And even if she does have a point, does she reserve the right to deny licenses to divorced people, or non-Christians, or people who make it clear that they will have an open marriage?

Priya Lynn
September 17th, 2011 | LINK

Well said Lymis. I was thinking something similar, but I don’t think I could have said it as well as you.

Erin
September 17th, 2011 | LINK

I agree with Lymis as well.

cowboy
September 17th, 2011 | LINK

BTB should have a Best Comment of the Day feature and I would nominate this one from Lymis.

DN
September 17th, 2011 | LINK

Ya know, I’ve had to change jobs about every two years because I work in an extremely volatile industry, rife with mergers and bankruptcy. My job has moved, been dissolved, and changed job descriptions a dozen times.

And every time that happened, I had the choice to go with it or pound sand. The difference between me and these conservative religious types is I didn’t get the ADF to take out press releases about it.

They are pathetic people.

Timothy Kincaid
September 20th, 2011 | LINK

Erin,

Taking straight folks in to be married right away and making the gay couple drive to another county or wait until later in the week for another employee is not equal protection.

If I read the story correctly, the appointment is required for all:

“It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a homosexual couple or a heterosexual couple. If they show up, they are told they will need to make an appointment.”

Jim,

The women own a home in Cayuga County, where Ledyard is located, making the selection an obious one.

Cayuga Co is 900 sq. miles and has a population of about 80,000. It has population 1,886 and abuts Scipio, of which it was once part.

Cayuga County’s total population for 2000 was 81,963. The largest proportion of this population resides within the center of the County and includes the City of Auburn with a population of 28,574, surrounded by the five towns of Sennett, Throop, Owasco, Fleming and Aurelius. Other than the City of Auburn, there are twenty-three incorporated towns in Cayuga County ranging in population from Brutus with 4,777 residents in 2000 to Sempronius with 893 residents.

The women own a home about a mile outside another small city and about 15 miles from Ledyard. And though they had to drive through three other cities to get there, they opted to request their marriage license in Ledyard.

Now it is entirely possible that they unknowingly wandered into Ledyard unbeknown of the certain fate of that request and on the spur of the moment were inspired to marry by Ledyard’s charm and beauty. But when I smell contrivance – and say so – I’m thinking that I’m the one with “obvious” on my side.

To all,

Yes, yes, obviously we are right and she is wrong. And it goes as certain that she will lose any ensuing legal battle. Of course Rose Marie should do her job and of course she isn’t entitled to deny equality and of course she should “serve everyone or quit”.

But just what the hell will we gain from this? Will a solitary gay person benefit? Nope.

This is one of those “well, I’ll show her” moments. “She won’t get away with this!!”

No. She won’t.

Even if we have to appear to be outsiders pushing our way into a small town to “impose our agenda” on the locals. Even if we have to create discrimination in order to object to it.

I guess it’s a sign of progress that we have to use contrived discrimination. I guess that means that we have no real battles to fight.

But sometimes, folks, it’s smarter not to be the aggressor, even when you are in the right. Sometimes it’s wiser to treat the oddities as such instead of raising their stature to one of importance.

Now Rose Marie will be a hero in the eyes of her people. Now more money will be raised by anti-gay activists. Now a martyr has been created out of whole cloth. The anti-gays are delighted.

But as for our community, the only thing we have gained is a story that we have to explain to Aunt Thelma at Thanksgiving. And so now we all get the “Yes, but the poor woman assigned someone else” conversation.

Sorry, but I don’t think this was a good idea at all.

Priya Lynn
September 20th, 2011 | LINK

You’re entitled to your opinion, Timothy.

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