Anti-Gay NY Town Clerk: Marriages with Animals Next?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 23, 2011

A New York town clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the state's new law providing family parity says that people marrying animals might be one consequence of the new law.

The clerk, Rose Marie Belforti, told Citizen Link in an Aug. 19 posting that she will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because "God is the final word," and says that she will turn to a legal group that promotes Biblical law if her superiors refuse to allow her to delegate the job of issuing the licenses to same-sex couples.

Belforti also told Citizen Link that she has been receiving "very slanderous" messages for her refusal to serve gay and lesbian families.

"I am a Christian. God is the final word. He is the Truth, and I believe what the Bible says," Belforti told Citizen Link, which is affiliated with the anti-gay group Focus on the Family.

"It is the law now," Belforti acknowledged, "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," the clerk continued. "So, I want to remove myself from this process."

Belforti is not the first clerk to come out against the new law, which does not make any provisions for public employees who feel they cannot serve all members of the public equally due to their faith traditions.

Earlier this year, Barbara MacEwen, the town clerk for Volney, NY, said that she did not want to have to sign her name to legal documents that allowed same-sex families to wed.

"I'm not objecting to having it done here in the office, but I'm objecting to being forced to sign my name to something that is against my morals and my God," MacEwen told the press. "I don't want to have to leave my position, and I still feel strongly about not wanting to sign, but I'm not sure if there's another way around it," added MacEwen.

Such signs that government employees might refuse to do their jobs prompted one county's DA to send out a strongly worded message last month.

"The Marriage Equality Act provides that an application for a marriage license cannot be denied on the grounds that the applicant parties are of the same sex and the law affords no discretion to public officials charged with granting marriage licenses," the letter, sent by Kathleen M. Rice, the DA of Nassau County, read. "Therefore, any such refusal may be subject to criminal prosecution."

Faced with the choice of either abiding by professional standards and doing the job for which she was paid, or adhering to the stipulations of an anti-gay faith tradition, Laura Fortusky, a town clerk in the tiny New York town of Barker, reportedly chose to resign -- an arguably laudable decision, given that it resolved the question of professionalism while preserving the individual's conscience.

But anti-gay groups have held up her resignation as proof that legal equality for same-sex families is damaging to religious freedoms, even when a marriage equality bill is as carefully crafted to respect anti-gay religious traditions as the one passed by New York lawmakers.

Fortusky said that she had been in contact with anti-gay leaders prior to her resignation, and indicated that she thought laws meant to protect minorities and ensure legal equality for all were inferior to laws she believed God had issued against gays and lesbians.

"I believe that there is a higher law than the law of the land. It is the law of God in the Bible," Fortusky wrote in her letter of resignation. "In Acts 5:29, it states, 'We ought to obey God rather than men.' "

The letter, which was posted at the website of anti-gay group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, noted that Fortusky had "been in contact with Jason McGuire from New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms," as well as with "our Town Attorney, Richard Lewis, and a Constitutional Lawyer regarding the Marriage Equality Act that was passed June 24, 2011." What counsel Fortusky might have received from McGuire or others was not specified in the letter.

However, the resignation letter followed the argument used by New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms as though scripted.

"There was no protection provided in the legislation for Town Clerks who are unable to sign these marriage licenses due to personal religious convictions, even though our US Constitution supports freedom of religion," Fortusky wrote.

Text at the anti-gay group's site read similarly.

"For licensed Christian counselors, not directly affiliated with a church, a day may come when the state may refuse licensure to those who practice reparative or ex-gay therapy," the site's text read.

"Wedding photographers and caterers will similarly find no protection. Refuse to photograph or serve a gay nuptial and people with strong convictions concerning the authentic definition of marriage will find themselves vulnerable to a lawsuit," suggested the text.

"Soon town clerks and justices will also be required to issue gay 'marriage' licenses."

The site's text followed the anti-gay convention of putting the word marriage in quotation marks when applied to same-sex couples, even though under law, at the state level at least, marriages entered into by gay and lesbian families as of July 24 will be legally on par with those of heterosexual couples, meaning that they will be legally binding and not theoretical.

The resignation letter also incorporated a number of other familiar talking points from anti-gay groups.

"The Bible clearly teaches that God created marriage between male and female as a divine gift that preserves families and cultures," the letter said. "Since I love and follow Him, I cannot put my signature on something that is against God."

LGBTQ Nation, reporting on Belforti on Aug. 21, remarked upon the fact that Belforti spoke to an anti-gay group's affiliate, but refused to speak to the mainstream press.

"Though she claims in her Citizen Link interview that 'if (reporters) want to talk to me over the phone, I would love to do that,' it must be remembered that this is the same woman who, when contacted by the New York paper the Auburn Citizen for comment on her decision, stated 'that's not your business' before rudely hanging up the phone," the LGBT Nation article said.

"Thus, everything that she says must be taken with a grain of salt; for if you only want to be interviewed by a 'friendly' organization, it seems as though you don't want to answer the hard questions," the article continued.

LGBTQ Nation also wondered about Belforti's faith-based refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, although she seemed not to have any such reservations when it came to mixed-faith couples or people seeking to re-marry after a divorce. The article concluded that "her refusal actually has roots in prejudice against gay and lesbian people -- couched in religious beliefs."

The clerk also denounced the language on the new forms, which no longer specify "bride" and "groom" but ask for the name of each "Bride / Groom / Spouse."

Belforti told Citizen Link that she thought "another agenda" might be at work "than just allowing same-sex couples to be married. We know what a bride is, we know what a groom is -- but if we choose to be a 'spouse,' does that even limit (marriage) to a human being? Do you know what I'm saying?"

Belforti also said that if she needed to, she would seek assistance from the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group that describes itself as "defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and direct litigation."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.