Ledyard town clerk Rose Marie Belforti used one word to describe her tenure as Ledyard town clerk, which began after she won the 2001 general election.
That all changed in August when Belforti sent a letter to the Ledyard town board two weeks after the Marriage Equality Act became law in New York, allowing same-sex couples to marry. The letter cited Belforti’s religious beliefs as a reason she could not sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Belforti also asked for permission to designate a deputy clerk, who would be responsible for issuing all marriage licenses.
In an interview with The Citizen at her home Wednesday, Belforti said she answers to a “higher court” — God — and teachings in the Bible tell her that same-sex marriage is wrong.
“I am a Christian. I believe marriage was created by God as a blessing to be shared between a man and a woman spiritually, emotionally and physically,” Belforti said. “Man cannot legislate a divinely ordained institution by a majority vote of those who do not recognize the sanctity of marriage, as God intended it to be. My conscience, which is also God-given, does not allow me to endorse same-sex marriage.”
Since her letter was made public, Belforti said she has received many emails from people opposing her position. The emails have not only been sent to her own email account, but to her business email address, she said.
According to Belforti, some opponents of her stance have boycotted her business, Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery, and they claim her position is keeping people away from the town.
Belforti does have supporters, including Rev. Jason McGuire. McGuire serves as executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms and has started the Courage Fund -- a group created to help support clerks who oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons.
Belforti’s critics say she is discriminating against same-sex couples. One couple, Katherine Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio, attempted to obtain a marriage license from Belforti in late August, but Belforti told them they would have to schedule an appointment and return when the deputy clerk is at the office.
Shortly after she sent the letter to the Ledyard town board, Belforti was told by Ledyard Supervisor Mark Jordan and deputy supervisor Jim Frisch not to issue any -- gay or straight -- marriage licenses. Instead, couples seeking a marriage license would have to make an appointment and a deputy clerk would issue the license.
Arthur Bellinzoni accompanied Carmichael and DiBiaggio to the Ledyard town clerk’s office and accused the town at Monday’s town board meeting of violating state law.
“It is evident that the Ledyard town clerk and the Ledyard town board have violated the law by ignoring the (New York State Department of Heath’s) Clerk Informational Memorandum, and the town board more specifically by falling for the town clerk’s appeal and accommodating her by disregarding state law and the rights of citizens for whom they all work,” Bellinzoni said in his remarks.
But Belforti sees nothing wrong with a deputy clerk issuing the licenses by appointment. Many towns have a deputy clerk issuing marriage licenses, she said, but she does not think Ledyard needs a full-time deputy clerk who would be at the office when it’s open.
“I just don’t think there’s enough work there for a deputy to be there full-time,” she said. “Sometimes I wish she was there a little bit more, but I’m a frugal person. I’m a conservative person and I don’t want the taxpayer money frittered away so I’ve keep things really, really down in my office.”
Despite the increased attention and opponents calling for her resignation, Belforti said she won’t step down.
“I love my job. I love working with the people at my job. To me, it’s not even a job. I go there and it’s just part of my day,” she said.