NY Town Clerk Refuses to be Bullied in Same-Sex Marriage Battle

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Homosexual activists may have met their match in 57 year old Rose Marie Belforti, the town clerk for the small town of Ledyard, New York who is refusing to be bullied into resigning because she won’t sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

National Review Online (NRO) is reporting that Belforti has stood her ground ever since the law was passed in June and she decided she could not betray her Christian faith by granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“When I considered this, God was there with me and I really knew inside, without waver, that this is not right,” Belforti said during an interview with CitizenLink.

“It is the law now, and I do want to obey the law because God wants me to do that, but personally for me to administer this application to a couple of the same sex would be very difficult. And I don’t think it’d do the couple any service to have me as their person, because it really, truly, does grieve the Holy Spirit that resides in my heart, and I don’t know if I’d be able to cover that up for them. So, I want to remove myself from this process.”

She has done so by invoking a state statute which allows her to appoint a deputy to sign marriage licenses.

However, a local lesbian couple, Deirdre DiBiaggio and Katie Carmichael, decided this wasn’t good enough for them. When they went to the town hall and were told by Belforti to come back the next day when the deputy could assist them, they accused the clerk of discriminating against them and promptly enlisted a liberal activist organization, People for the American Way Foundation, and the law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP, to force Belforti to sign the licenses herself.

Although the couple has not yet filed charges, Drew Courtney, director of communications for the foundation, told NRO that they’re “exploring that possibility.”

“Couples shouldn’t get turned away because of a clerk’s religious beliefs,” he says. “She’s trying to sidestep an entire area of her duties.”

Thus far, the bullying tactics don’t seem to be working. Last month an attorney for Proskauer sent Belforti and Ledyard’s town supervisor, Mark Jordan, a letter demanding that the town council direct Belforti to issue the licenses or resign. The council refused. “The clerk runs her own office,” Jordan said at a town-council meeting. “We cannot force her.”

The firm insisted that the new state law stipulates that “no application for a marriage license shall be denied on the ground that the parties are of the same or a different sex,” and cited a comment by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that no one should be allowed to “pick and choose” the laws they wish to follow.

However, Holly Carmichael, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, a public interest law firm which is now assisting Belforti, says her client isn’t picking and choosing the laws she wants to recognize, she’s merely changing how she enforces them, and doing so in ways that are in accordance with state law.

If state law allows Belforti to appoint a deputy, and she requires all couples to follow the same procedure, experts say it’s difficult to see on what grounds the couple would lay their case.

Ms. Belforti is up for re-election in November and is actively campaigning to be rehired for the humble job of serving as Ledyard town clerk which consists of keeping the office open nine hours a week. The part-time farmer and kefir cheese maker says that in spite of the fact that Republicans outnumber Democrats in the sleepy little town of Ledyard, her stance on same-sex marriage has caused another resident to challenge her.

Ed Easter, 40, told The New York Times he felt someone needed to challenge Belforti rather than wait for the courts to decide the matter.

“The easiest way for her to go, and to settle this whole issue, is to take it to a vote — just vote her out of office,” he said.

Whatever happens, Belforti is at peace.

“I’m totally at peace, because God comes first for me,” she said. “It’s not a question at all. If they want to get me out, you know, I’ve shown them what I can do for 10 years — if that’s not good enough and people want somebody else, that is their choice.”

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Photo of Rose Marie Belforti in her Ledyard office is by Brett Carlsen for The New York Times.

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