Gay marriage, religion issues in NY clerk race

By Michael Hill

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 25 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Belforti's position has drawn criticism from people who feel they are being asked to pay a deputy to do something the clerk should do. It rankled Easter enough to launch his write-in campaign.

The 40-year-old works at a local wine shop and has lived in town for more than a year with his wife and stepson. He had no particular dream to become a town clerk, but he felt the situation demanded that someone step up. Easter, like Belforti, is a Republican. He also is a Christian who said the issue is not his opponent's faith.

"It's not about attacking her beliefs," Easter said, "it's about her beliefs are not letting her do her job."

Marriage licenses are a small part of the clerk's job: Belforti said the office has never issued more than seven a year. But the controversy has resonated here. Residents asked about the issue recently all knew something about it. Some said that they liked Belforti and respected her right to her religious views, but said she should consider stepping down if she can't do the job.

"In her situation, can she have it both ways? I don't think so," said Jacci Farlow, managing director of the Aurora Arts and Design Center.

Belforti said she has endured nasty emails and charges that she is a bigot, which she emphatically disputes. There have been calls to boycott her cheese business, a tactic Easter disagrees with.

"This has never been about putting her out of business," he said, "it's about putting her out of office."

There is no polling for such a small-town race and it's unclear just how important the marriage debate will be to voters compared to the personal relationships that dominate small-town elections.

"I think she's wrong, but I'm voting for her anyway. I think she's just a splendid town clerk," said Bradley Mitchell as he left the local post office.

The race has received wider interest from advocates on both sides of the gay marriage debate. Still, it looks like a stretch to see the race as a political harbinger.

There are only about 1,000 registered voters in Ledyard, a town where the farms are interrupted by the quaint lakeside village of Aurora, home to Wells College. Ledyard differs demographically from the sprawling, suburban senatorial districts that could become battlegrounds during next year's legislative elections.

And while millions of dollars are already being pledged for and against the Republican lawmakers who voted for gay marriage, the town clerk candidates are looking at campaign accounts more in line with a monthly mortgage payment.

Belforti expects to get $500 from supporters, which she will use for a mailing to outline her record and explain her stance on marriage licenses. Easter figures he has raised around $1,200 and plans on yard signs to help get his message out.

"I think in the end no matter how this turns out," he said, "that this conversation needs to be had."

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