Rose Marie Belforti
Town Clerk, Ledyard NY
Dear Ms. Belforti,
There are legislators in the state of New York. From what I hear from my perch in Kansas City, they can be a pretty odd bunch at times. Still, they *are* legislators, and after they argue and bicker and horsetrade, in the end they manage to pass legislation every now and then.
You are not a member of the legislature.
There is also a governor in New York. He argues and bickers and horsetrades with the legislators, trying to shape the proposals into something he’d like. In the end, he takes whatever legislation is passed by the legislature, and either signs it into law or not.
You are not the governor.
There are also judges in New York. When people argue and bicker with one another over the meaning or application or constitutionality of a law, they often end up arguing and bickering in front of a judge. Sometimes there are juries who listen in. In the end, the judges and juries pass judgement on the laws and their application.
You are not one of them.
You are a town clerk. It’s a fine and noble position, and people in your town depend on you to do your job. They don’t depend on you to write legislation, approve legislation, or rule on its constitutionality. Other people have those jobs, not you. [cont’d.]
Your job is to be the town clerk. When two people present themselves to obtain a marriage license, your job is to insure that they meet the requirements of the state of New York before you issue it to them. Is one of them too young? Your reply is simple: “No license for you. Come back when you’re older.” Is one of them presently married to someone else? Again, your answer is clear: “Sorry, but it’s one license at a time per customer. Come back when the old one is void.” Is one of them drunk? “Sorry, but we can’t serve you if you’ve had too much to drink. Come back when you’re sober.”
And if they meet the requirements, your answer is equally clear: “Sign here . . . pay your fees . . . and here’s your license.”
There’s no “but I don’t think they’ll stay married” exception that allows you to refuse a license because you think the union will not last. There’s no “but I don’t like interracial marriages because it confuses the kids” exception that allows you to refuse a license based on your perception of what’s best for children the couple may or may not have down the road. There’s no “but he/she is just a golddigger after your money” exception that allows you to override the wishes of the couple because you believe that one of them is taking advantage of the other.
And there’s no “but I don’t like same-sex couples” exclusion that allows you to override the law of the state of New York. There just isn’t.
If that’s a problem for you, then I suggest you find another line of work that lets you practice your prejudices. Either that, or move to somewhere else that approves of your prejudice and become a county clerk there.
Ms. Belforti, you are entitled to your religious beliefs, just as I am entitled to mine. But your beliefs do not entitle you as an agent of the state of New York to set aside and ignore the laws you don’t like that have been passed by the state legislature, signed by the governor, and not been overturned by the judges of the state of New York.
Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio came to you two weeks ago to obtain a license for which they meet all the requirements, and you refused to grant it. For that you should be sanctioned, and if you persist, you should be removed from office and replaced with someone who will faithfully execute the laws of the state of New York.
It’s been two weeks, and the clock is still ticking. You can argue with the law and bicker with the law, but you cannot do it on the county’s time and at this couple’s expense. To borrow from a certain pastor, “Marriage delayed is marriage denied,” and marriages like these have been delayed far too long already.