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Cayuga County (WSYR-TV) -- The Ledyard Town Clerk is speaking out about her decision to exclude herself from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, which has sparked controversy and claims of discrimination and calls for her resignation.
A couple from Florida has now challenged her decision, which could lead to a landmark court battle in the State of New York.
Rose Marie Belforti is a 10-year town clerk and a life-long Christian.
“I take the bible very serious. For me it is the foundation of my own perceptions. So that is my truth,” Rose said.
Rose perceives marriage as a sacred institution between a man and a woman. She recently informed the Town Board she would not be issuing marriage licenses to any couple, straight or gay. The deputy clerk now handles those duties – by appointment only.
After hearing the news, Florida couple Katie Carmichael and Deidre Dibiaggio, who have a home in Cayuga and are looking to get married, put Rose to the test.
"But I honestly thought that if Dee Dee and I were standing in front of her that there is no way this woman was going to break the law and not do that. So I was very disappointed,” explained Katie Carmichael.
Friend Arthur Bellinzoni was with them. He said, “This is a nation which we believe in liberty and justice for all. And there is nothing that speaks about liberty and justice for all except gays and lesbians. It's just blatant discrimination and you can't hide behind a religious cloak on this. She took an oath of office and she has to perform her duties."
Town Supervisor Mark Jordan wouldn't go as far as to say he supports Rose's personal decision. In fact, he would prefer she performed all the duties she's “supposed to.” But, he says she was elected by the people, it's her office and for now he and the board are separating themselves and letting her run it as she sees fit."
"We do want to keep a diverse society. We want to respect each other. So I'm not trying to break the law. I'm not trying to change it so that they can't get that. This is just a personal fight that I have to do for myself,” Rose said.
Many are calling for Belforti to step down. Legal action against her and the town has already been threatened on behalf of that couple.
A group called New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms is offering legal support for Belforti, and the town, free of charge.
And while law clearly states that the clerk has to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, laws are always up for interpretation.
A memo from the state sent to all town and village clerks back in July states: “The town or city clerk must provide a license to an applicant who meets all marriage requirements from New York State. It is a misdemeanor violation if the clerk refuses to do so for any reason.”
Belforti counters with two state laws of her own: One being you can’t discriminate a worker based on their religious beliefs and two; clerks can designate tasks to their deputies, just as she is doing with marriage licenses.
If this goes to court, it will be the first case of its kind in New York.