Local clerk in New York refuses to sign gay marriage licenses

I have so little patience for this bullshit.

After New York legalized same-sex marriage last June, some local clerks resigned rather than have to sign marriage licenses for gay couples. But in Ledyard, a rural upstate town, the town clerk Rose Marie Belforti avoids committing that terrible sin by having her deputy sign all marriage licenses instead. She explains, “God doesn’t want me to do this, so I can’t do what God doesn’t want me to do.”

Now a lesbian couple who didn’t want to reschedule with her deputy (you know, since they already waited for a decade to be able to get legally hitched) is considering filing a lawsuit. If they do, the case could test “how the state balances a religious freedom claim by a local official against a civil rights claim by a same-sex couple.”

The New York Times reports:

Ms. Belforti, represented by a Christian legal advocacy group based in Arizona, the Alliance Defense Fund, is arguing that state law requires New York to accommodate her religious beliefs.

“New York law protects my right to hold both my job and my beliefs,” she said in an interview last week, pausing briefly to collect $50 from a resident planning to take 20 loads of refuse to the town dump. “I’m not supposed to have to leave my beliefs at the door at my government job.”

That’s ridiculous. I’m a big fan of religious freedom. I want to live in pluralistic society where everyone’s religious beliefs are respected and accommodated as much as possible. If your religion can be accommodated by, for example, being able to wear a covering on your head or take holy days off from work, that’s great. But when it requires allowing you to not actually do your job, there’s a problem.

Especially when your job just happens to involve helping other people to exercise their legal rights. As Governor Cuomo said, “When you enforce the laws of the state, you don’t get to pick and choose.”

So, no, Ms. Belforti–New York law does not necessarily protect your right to hold your job and your homophobic beliefs. It’s just that for a long time they happened to coincide. But that’s changed. If your beliefs now prevent you from carrying out the duties of your job, then it sounds like you’ve gotta ditch one or the other.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/valarissa/ Lauren Voswinkel

    I’m all about religious freedoms myself, and NY state is required by law to make any accommodations required to ensure that a person is able to practice their religion uninhibited and will not be punished or reprimanded for it. Here’s the rub, Christianity makes no claim, whatsoever, that to practice the Christian religion, you must condemn homosexuality. That is not part of the practice of any sect of Christianity. If they were told they had to work on Sunday, that directly interferes with her ability to worship and is against the law.

    The fact of this matter is that this is a misinterpretation of the laws protecting religious freedom, because her ability to observe her religion has not been impeded in any way. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” Hold in your heart that you condemn homosexuality, fine, but you are beholden to your constituency to perform your job as an elected official.

    • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

      On the contrary, I would say many branches of Christianity insist that to be a member in good standing of their branch you must condemn homosexuality. In fact it seems to be one of the most visible tenets of their faith.

  • unequivocal

    If your religion can be accommodated by, for example, being able to wear a covering on your head or take holy days off from work, that’s great. But when it requires allowing you to not actually do your job, there’s a problem.

    Bolding added.

    Wait, explain again what the qualifications for reasonable religious accommodation are.

    • davenj

      Reasonable accommodation would suggest that a person can take several days off every year for religious observance without significant problems in their job performance. People routinely take personal days for illnesses or for other reasons, and thus the idea of missing a few days of work for religious observance is not significantly different. We believe that most jobs allow for at least a few absences a year, for a variety of causes, and holidays are one of those causes.

      Conversely, if you can’t handle pork at all, it’s probably not a good idea to work in a ham packaging plant.

      The issue here is to what degree the accommodation works. Her job is to enforce the law of the state. If she disagree with the law to the point that she cannot enforce it, there’s no accommodation there. She fundamentally cannot do her job.

      I can’t be a taste-tester for bacon, she can’t work as a clerk. No biggie, but she needs to recognize that either the beliefs have to go or the job does.

    • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

      In my life experience, usually most requests for (unpaid or taken from PTO bank) days off from work can be reasonably accommodated if requested far enough in advance. It’s a very rare job where this is an unreasonable request, no matter what the reason is.

      We wouldn’t be reading this article if it was “Local clerk in New York takes day off for Ash Wednesday” because it’s not really a big deal.

    • http://www.cs.brown.edu/people/rebecca/ ADHD PhD


      According to this website, reasonable accommodations for someone not coming into work for a holy day can include things like shift swaps between employees, working on a weekend or national holiday in place of a normal workday, or requiring the employee to use one of their vacation days.

      However, the employer can claim “undue hardship” if the accommodation infringes on the rights or benefits of other employees, requires more than normal administrative costs, or breaks a law or safety regulation.

    • unequivocal

      My point here is that “accommodations” are, almost by definition, going to cause a degree of inconvenience to someone (the organization, the clientele, coworkers), and are going to result in the person not completely doing their job. Therefore using the standard described in the OP (religious accommodations are fine provided they don’t interfere with the person’s ability to do their job) is not a useful metric.

      The question should be “how much interference constitutes a reasonable accommodation” and then the next question should be “does having a deputy sign a paper for you constitute an unreasonable burden.”

      I don’t have an answer to that, I just want to note that the issue is being framed in a less-than-useful fashion.

  • trickie

    The exact same thing happened in Canada after the legalization of same-sex marriage. Clerks and justices of the peace were refusing to serve these couples. They took it to court citing religious freedom and guess what THEY LOST.

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    If people want to raise religious objections to basic job functions, then I suggest they withdraw into their own communities. Engaging with the world requires compromise.

  • rebeccajk42

    When I first started reading this, I was thinking that actually it would be fine to pass off the job of signing the certificate to the deputy. But I didn’t realize there was a logistical issue involved, e.g. having to reschedule. Maybe that’s the response to unequivocal above – as long as the job *gets done*, it’s fine. If you take off holy days, probably it’s just that someone else is scheduled for that day. If you’re the only person that can do your job, then let it be known the office or whatever is closed that day, don’t make appointments.

    So for example… say there are two pharmacists, one won’t fill birth control. If I get that person at the counter, and they call over the other one to take care of me instead, I would like “Geez that guy is a jerk” but I would still get helped. If the other pharmacist isn’t there, then I WOULD expect him to fill my prescription regardless of his beliefs, not to tell me to come back later.

    • http://feministing.com/members/smiles/ Smiley


      I think the fundamental difference is that a pharmacy is not a branch of government. A pharmacy can choose not to sell certain items, but an office of the law is required (or, I expect it) to enforce the law to anyone who requests it; an employee cannot choose which laws to enforce (as others have pointed out).

      The law shall be enforced equally to everyone, and BY everyone, basically.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Maybe her God can write her a recommendation for a whole different line of work that doesn’t interfere with the wills of others.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rgheck/ Richard Heck

    The comparison between same-sex marriage and inter-racial marriage is often illuminating, though not always, but I’d say it is illuminating here: If some clerk had objected that his (it would have been his) religious beliefs prohibited inter-racial marriage, so he wouldn’t have signed licenses for such couples, I don’t think we would have needed much discussion to know what to do.