Ledyard Town Clerk Rose Marie Belforti won’t be signing marriage licenses any time soon as the town figures out how to accommodate the clerk’s religious beliefs while also abiding by the state’s new same-sex marriage law.
Belforti, who wrote a letter to the Ledyard town council in August saying she could not sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs, has agreed to not sign any marriage licenses until a permanent resolution is reached, Ledyard town councilman Jim Frisch said Wednesday.
In her letter, Belforti cited a state law that says an employer must accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. Her letter came a few weeks after the Marriage Equality Act, which allows same-sex marriage in New York, went into effect.
“What we’ve done is this: The clerk, until this matter is resolved, is not doing any marriage licenses,” Frisch said. “At least, that’s what she has agreed to. In the interim, appointed deputy clerks will attend to all marriage licenses, but these deputy clerks are not there at all times.”
Frisch said in order for a couple to obtain a marriage license, if a deputy clerk isn’t at the town office, they must schedule an appointment. He conceded that it may be inconvenient for some couples, but was informed by Belforti that people typically call ahead to make arrangements to come in and obtain a marriage license.
One couple encountered the practice this week.
Katie Carmichael and her partner, who live in Florida but spend their summers in Union Springs, went to the Ledyard town office this week hoping to obtain a marriage license. Carmichael said they were told by Belforti that they would have to make an appointment to come back.
Carmichael said she was angry because the town “is allowing (Belforti) to circumvent the law.” She said that she has contacted the National Center for Lesbian Rights and other gay rights groups notifying them of her experience.
“It is blatant discrimination,” Carmichael said.
Frisch said he hopes there is a permanent resolution sooner rather than later, but acknowledged that the town does not issue many marriage licenses. In any given year, Frisch said, the town may issue three or four marriage licenses or up to seven per year.
There is a legal question, Frisch said, of how the town should handle this to comply with the new Marriage Equality Act while also abiding by the law Belforti cited in her letter. He said the town has consulted with its attorney, Adam Van Buskirk, and Van Buskirk has communicated with the town.
Van Buskirk declined comment and referred questions to Ledyard Town Supervisor Mark Jordan. Jordan was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
It is possible the subject will be on the agenda at the next Ledyard town board meeting scheduled for Monday, Sept. 12, and Frisch said it is unlikely that the board will hold a special meeting before then to address the issue.
“This has to be resolved in a more permanent fashion,” Frisch said. “What or when that resolution will occur, I have no idea, but it’s not something we are going to put on the back burner.”
Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding