Town Clerks Bullied over NY Gay Marriage Law

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LEDYARD, N.Y. -- Gay marriage has been legal in New York for a little more than four months but it has already led to a crisis of conscience for some public workers.

Since gay marriage became official July 24, two town clerks have resigned because they refused to sign licenses for same-sex couples.

Another clerk has assigned the duty to a deputy.

Now, some residents are looking to remove that clerk from office with a write-in campaign in the Nov. 8 election.

Enduring the Heat

Ledyard is a farming town in upstate New York, home to about 2,000 people. Some often leave during the winter to escape the severe cold.

Rose Marie Belforti braves the cold as a dairy farmer. But as Ledyard's town clerk, she has been enduring the heat of criticism from gay rights groups.

The Christian wife and mother opposes gay marriage. So when leaders legalized gay marriage last summer, Belforti assigned all marriage licensing duties to a deputy in her office.

"Once in a while in your life you have to stand up for Christ and this is my turn," she said during a recent interview with CBN News.

"I have given over the whole duty of the marriage application process, including heterosexual marriages," Belforti explained. "So, I am not doing any of them because I really do want to be fair to everyone."

"So that way, nobody has to go to the back of the bus. So everybody is going to make an appointment and there will be a deputy to make sure they get what they need," she added.

The Ledyard Town Hall issues fewer than seven marriage licenses a year. Still, Belforti's move has angered some residents.

Ledyard resident Ed Easter has launched a write-in campaign to remove her from the position she has held for 10 years.

One lesbian couple has also threatened to file a lawsuit.

"I am not afraid," Belforti told CBN News. "I know that I am supported by the law. If they want to challenge that, they will have to sue me and bring it on."

Belforti asked the conservative legal group Alliance Defense Fund for their advice.

"We need to protect religious liberty and the right of conscience. And legalizing same-sex marriage creates these kinds of conflicts," ADF Attorney Jordan Lorence said.

"And it would be better and more in line with our American constitutional tradition, protecting religious liberty and right of conscience, to protect these town clerks," Lorence said.

Clerks Resign

At least two New York town clerks have resigned from their positions because they refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

One of them lives in Granby in Oswego County. The town is home to a little more than 6,000 people.

After 13 years of service, Ruth Sheldon left her job at the Granby Town Hall, just one day before gay marriage became legal.

Sheldon now spends her free time volunteering at her church and praying for Christian clerks who are still on the job.

"I'd like to see them protected," Sheldon said. "I think they should have a right to their religious beliefs, their biblical beliefs."

"And they should be able to stay in the office and just appoint someone else to do the job. It's a very small percentage of work in a rural community," she said.

Laura Fotusky, former town clerk for Barker, was the second New York clerk to resign over the gay marriage law.

"It was hard. I had tears. During that time, where you don't really know what's going on and you don't really have a decision. It was unsettling," she said.

Christian Support

The town clerks are finding some support from Christian groups, like Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.

"There are more than 900 clerks in New York State. And a dozen of them have actually called us to say we have concerns about this issue," McGuire said.

"I think there are many more than that below the tip of the iceberg. But because of the bullying factor that is applied to these types of situations, they dare not come out," he explained.

"But there are about a dozen we're working with right now," he said.

Belforti, Sheldon, and Fotusky welcome the company in their stand for religious freedom.

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Efrem Graham

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Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.