Gay marriage controversy in Ledyard gains national attention

Town Clerk Rose Marie Belforti / photo: Jim Kenyon

A dispute over same sex marriage has thrust a small town in Cayuga County into the national spotlight.

Following the enactment of New York's law recognizing gay marriage earlier this year, a lesbian couple, Dierdre DiBiaggio and Katie Carmichael of Miami Florida, went to the Ledyard Town Clerk's office to apply for a marriage certificate. DiBiaggio and Carmichael own property in a neighboring town in New York State.

Town Clerk Rose Marie Belforti tells CNY Central's Jim Kenyon that she asked them to "make an appointment" to submit their application with a deputy clerk. The couple are threatening to sue Belforti and the Town of Ledyard and have called for Belforti to resign. The case has received national attention from media outlets including the Washington Post and New York Times. The People for the American Way support DiBiaggio and Carmichael. Arthur Bellinzoni who lives in nearby Aurora is a member of the board of the organization. "I would compare this with what was going on in the deep south in the '50'sa nd '60's when people went to lunch counters when they knew they would not be served. This is a way of testing the law and finding out what our rights are." Bellinzoni said.

Belforti says she is opposed to same sex marriage based on her religious beliefs. "I'm a Christian. I have a relationship with Jesus Christ. I do not want to violate that relationship...It's not about discrimination." Belforti says after the same sex marriage law took effect, in July she informed the Ledyard Town Board, she would no longer issue any marriage licenses whether the couple be gay or heterosexual. She said marriage licenses would be issued by a deputy clerk by appointment. "If I'm asked to put my signiture on that paper...I feel like I'm sinning"

Belforti says her decision to have a deputy clerk take over the issuance of marriage licenses is protected by a section of New York State's Human Rights Law, which she says requires employers to make accomodations for people when their duties violate their religious beliefs. "I've been called all kinds of stuff... there are gay people in my life. This is not about that. This whole ...same sex equality law has come between me and my faith." Belforti said.

Bellinzoni disagrees, "We think Ms. Belforti has a responsibility to do a whole job. She can't write her own job description. She is in violation..."

Belforti has the support of a Christian lobby group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, and other religious organizations that are helping prepare her defense when the threatened lawsuit is filed.

DiBiaggio and Carmichael have not yet returned our calls for comment.