PFAW Foundation Demands that NY Town Clerks End Marriage Discrimination

People For the American Way Foundation and Proskauer Rose, LLP, a global law firm, sent a letter this weekend to the Ledyard Town Board, demanding that the town’s clerk fulfill her legal duty to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The letter refers to Ledyard Town Clerk Rose Marie Belforti, who had publicly stated that she will not sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples and refused to do so for Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio on August 30. With the Ledyard Town Board’s permission, Ms. Belforti decided to stop issuing marriage licenses altogether due to her opposition to the Marriage Equality Act, instead delegating the responsibility to a subordinate officer. Upon appearing before Ms. Belforti for a marriage license on August 30th, Ms. Carmichael and Ms. DiBiaggio were told by the town clerk herself that they could not obtain a license that day and instead would need to return by appointment another day to meet with a subordinate official who would fulfill their request. Faced with discrimination by an elected official who placed her personal prejudices above the law, Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio turned to People For the American Way Foundation for help in realizing their right to wed.

“Public officials can’t pick and choose the laws they want to follow,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way Foundation. “If a public official simply decides to shirk the obligations of her office, then she should resign and be replaced by someone who will do the job and carry out state law. Enforcement of the Marriage Equality Act is not subject to the opinion of town clerks – it is the right of all New Yorkers.”

This matter will be discussed during tonight’s meeting of the Ledyard Town Board. People For the American Way Foundation turned to the New York City office of Proskauer Rose, which agreed to represent Ms. Carmichael and Ms. DiBiaggio and sent a letter to the Ledyard Town Supervisor and the Ledyard Town Clerk demanding that Ms. Belforti be directed to perform her duties faithfully, or step down immediately. The letter and a copy of a New York Department of Health memorandum to municipal clerks on the implementation of the Marriage Equality Act can be found here.

“This year the State of New York made the decision to recognize the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian New Yorkers by finally allowing all couples to have equal access to the protections only marriage provides,” said Keegan. “Unfortunately, there are some elected officials out there who wish to continue discriminating despite the law’s protections, rather than just do their jobs. Our trust in our elected officials to uphold the people’s laws has no room for such bias.” With the assistance of Proskauer Rose, People For the American Way Foundation is exploring remedies to protect Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio’s rights under New York law, including possible legal action.

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