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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Just as dozens of New York judges are signing up for rare Sunday duty in order to officiate at gay weddings on July 24, when the state’s marriage equality law takes effect, one town clerk has resigned and another recused herself in opposition to the act.

Laura Fotusky, the elected town clerk for Broome County, submitted her resignation earlier this month, saying that she could not in good conscience marry gay and lesbian couples. “The Bible clearly teaches that God created marriage between male and female as a divine gift that preserves families and cultures,” she wrote in her letter of resignation, which the anti-gay-marriage group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms posted on its website. “Since I love and follow Him, I cannot put my signature on something that is against God.”

A few days after Fotusky’s announcement, Rosemary Centi, the town clerk for Guilderland, said she will give up her appointment as marriage officer in order to avoid officiating at gay weddings. Centi has not resigned from her position as town clerk and will continue to grant marriage licenses to all eligible applicants, the Times Union reports. Citing several gay friends, Centi insists she does not oppose gay rights in general. But to preside over the marriage ceremonies, she claims, would violate her faith.

The Alliance Defense Fund, an organization opposed to same-sex marriage, recently issued a memorandum in support of clerks who do not wish to preside over gay weddings. The organization argues that clerks deserve religious accommodation by the state, claiming that New York law requires local governments to respect “an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” unless they pose an “undue hardship” to the employer.

It’s common in many fields for professionals to cite conscience in order to avoid performing certain services. Just last month, legislators in Kansas proposed legal protections for pharmacists and health care providers who do not wish to perform abortions for religious reasons. Proponents argued that no person should be required to participate in any health care service that “violates his conscience.”

So far, state officials in New York have been unsympathetic to the conscience argument, at least in regards to public servants. “We all take oaths to follow the laws of the state and the town and the federal government,” Centi’s supervisor told the Times Union. “Same-sex marriages are permitted under the law and it’s our duty to perform them.”

When asked about the clerks’ decisions on Friday, Governor Cuomo took a similar line. ”The law is the law. You enforce the law as is, you don’t get to pick and choose those laws,” he said. “If you can’t enforce the law, you shouldn’t be in that position.”

In choosing to resign, Fotusky appears to agree.

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