Law Enforcement Mum on Clerk Refusing Lesbian Couple Marriage License

Did a New York town clerk break the law when she refused to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple?

Law enforcement does not want to comment.

On August 30, Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio sought a marriage license at the Ledyard town clerk’s office, but were denied a license by Rose Marie Belforti, the elected town clerk.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Cayuga County DA Jon Budelmann offer no comment on criminal infraction

In published reports, Belforti has described herself as Christian and said issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples violates her religious views. Belforti’s office requires gay and lesbian couples to get a license from one of her deputies, but none was available when the couple arrived. Heterosexual couples seeking a marriage license can get them from Belforti or her deputies.

New York state law says a “public servant is guilty of official misconduct when, with intent to obtain a benefit or deprive another person of a benefit… He knowingly refrains from performing a duty which is imposed upon him by law or is clearly inherent in the nature of his office.”

Official misconduct is a misdemeanor.

At least one New York district attorney warned the town clerks in her county that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples could lead to criminal prosecutions.

On July 8, roughly two weeks before gay marriage became legal in New York, Kathleen M. Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, sent a letter to the town clerks there telling them they could not deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Rice’s letter came after one upstate town clerk resigned rather than take on the responsibility of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Since the Marriage Equality Act became law on June 24, two town clerks have resigned rather than sign marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples and a third stopped officiating at weddings, but still signs licenses. Belforti is the only clerk who wants to keep her job, but not serve lesbian and gay couples when they seek licenses.

There are 932 town clerks in New York, according to the New York State Town Clerks Association.

Emails and calls to Jon E. Budelmann, the Cayuga County district attorney, Eric M. Schneiderman, the state attorney general, and Belforti went unanswered.

Debbie Liu, the general counsel at the People For the American Way Foundation, the liberal advocacy group that is representing the couple, said a PFAW board member who lives in Cayuga County was told that the district attorney’s office was watching the matter.

“I believe that the authorities are monitoring it and looking into it,” Liu said. The civil rights unit in Schneiderman’s office was also watching, she said.

“They said that they are monitoring the situation too,” Liu told Gay City News. “They don’t promise to take any action.”

The couple may bring a lawsuit though they have not yet decided on that.

“We’re still looking at it,” Liu said.