NEW YORK, Sept 14 (Reuters) - A Manhattan law firm is
calling for the resignation of a town clerk in upstate New York
who claims she can't grant same-sex marriage licenses because
of her religious beliefs.
Proskauer Rose is co-counsel to Katie Carmichael and
Deirdre DiBiaggio, two women who attempted to obtain a marriage
license at Ledyard Town Hall on Aug. 30.
Even though the couple had satisfied all the requirements
for the license, the Ledyard town clerk, Rose Marie Belforti,
refused to issue it, and told them to return on another day
"when a subordinate official would be able to fulfill their
request," according to a letter sent by Proskauer partner James
Gregory to Belforti and her supervisor.
"It is our understanding that Ms. Belforti previously
indicated her unwillingness to issue marriage licenses to
same-sex couples on account of her religious beliefs. As a
result, we understand that Ms. Belforti is no longer issuing
any marriage licenses -- an essential duty of her elected
office -- at the town's discretion or, at a minimum, with the
town's acquiescence," the letter says.
New York's same-sex marriage law, which passed on June 24,
includes a clause exempting religious institutions and
nonprofits with religious affiliations from being required to
officiate at same-sex ceremonies. Municipal officials with
religiously-based opposition to same-sex marriage do not fall
under the exemption.
This is not the first time a clerk has had misgivings about
the new law.
In mid-July, a town clerk in Barker resigned, saying her
religious beliefs prevented her from issuing marriage licenses
to same-sex couples.
The Proskauer letter cites a July 13 memorandum from the
New York State Department of Health that says town and city
clerks have a legal obligation to provide a marriage license to
all eligible applicants. "It is a misdemeanor violation if the
clerk refuses to do so for any reason," the memo states.
Proskauer's letter urges the Ledyard town board to direct
Belforti to issue same-sex marriage licenses or order her to
"In the event such decisive action is not taken, we will be
forced to take further legal action on behalf of Mmes.
Carmichael and DiBiaggio in order (to) fully protect and
enforce their rights under New York law," the letter says.
On Tuesday, People For the American Way Foundation, which
serves as co-counsel to the women, circulated an online
petition calling for Ledyard to require Belforti to issue
same-sex marriage licenses or step down.
Belforti could not be reached for comment.
The New York Attorney General's office declined to
(Reporting by Noeleen Walder)
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(An earlier version of this article stated that the online
petition was sent Monday. It was sent Tuesday.)