Candidate Vows to Unseat Town Clerk Who Refuses to Marry Gays

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com September 20 2011 3:10 PM ET

A town clerk’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has
one man vying to bounce her from office.

Ed Easter, a married father who has never held elected office, announced his
write-in candidacy to challenge Ledyard town clerk Rose Marie Belforti in New
York. Easter made his announcement Tuesday in a letter to the editors of local
newspapers, at least one of which has already opposed Belforti’s stance.

Last month, the clerk declared she would not issue marriage licenses to
same-sex couples because of her Christian religious beliefs, which resulted in
a controversial
compromise
in which a deputy was selected to issue marriage licenses for
all couples. Limited availability of a subordinate means that couples need to
make an appointment, an inconvenience that may also be illegal.

People For The American Way last week sent a letter threatening to sue
Belforti and the town, saying the public servant should uphold the marriage
equality law or resign her taxpayer-funded job, as at least two other clerks in
the state have done.


“I would never want anyone to do something that they truly believe is wrong,
but Ledyard needs a Town Clerk that will do the job of a town clerk,” wrote
Easter in a copy of his letter provided to The Advocate. “All solutions brought forth by the Town Council
fall short of either equality or expectation and impose an unjust burden of tax
dollars on the people that she is bound to serve. It has been said that she
serves the people not the council, and I agree it is the people's
responsibility to elect someone else to do the job if she will not resign. I am
willing to do the whole job.”


A native of Birmingham, Ala., the 40-year-old said he took inspiration from the
16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which last week marked its grim 48th
anniversary. He quoted a range of thinkers in an interview Tuesday morning
about his candidacy, which claims no party affiliation.


“It occurred to me that maybe if somebody had spoke out to the right people at
the right time maybe that would not have happened,” he said of the bombing that
killed four African-American girls in 1963. “As Edmund Burke said, ‘All that is
necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’ I consider myself
a Christian and from what I know, I like Matthew 7:1: ‘Judge not lest you be
judged.’”


While idealistic, the first-time candidate acknowledged the realpolitik
involved with challenging a 10-year incumbent Republican in upstate New York
through a write-in campaign. He anticipated a focus on building name
recognition among the few hundred people expected to vote in Ledyard, where estimates
put the population at around 2,000. Aurora, the more liberal college town where
he lives and his wife teaches at Wells College, would seem to provide a natural
base of support.


“It’s basically door to door,” he said of the effort that values local volunteers
over cash contributions. “There’s not a lot of time and this is not something
that was planned out. Get people registered and get them to the polls. It’s a
small town campaign.”


A former stage manager for theater and trainer for an international cosmetics
company, Easter said his qualifications include working with diverse and
close-knit groups of people under deadline pressure. He also brings experience
applying makeup for two grooms on their wedding day.


Currently, Easter works part-time in the tasting room of a winery that sells
cheese from the dairy farm owned by Belforti. He said someone recently sent
hate mail to his store for carrying her products, a tone that he wants to avoid
in his campaign.


“Practice your civic rights and civility,” he said. “She’s getting some heat
and she’s not a bad woman, I just disagree with her. People need to be careful
and don’t make her a victim. She’s not a victim in this situation.”


Belforti, who earned $19,116 in her part-time clerk position last year, refuses
to resign. New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a group of evangelical
Protestants that advocated against the marriage equality law before it passed
in June, has offered to connect her and other clerks to legal support from the
Alliance Defense Fund.


Reached for comment Tuesday morning at the clerk’s office in Ledyard, Belforti
hung up the phone twice. She responded with “No comment” on the third attempt
to ask about her reelection challenge.


As for Easter, no matter the outcome this November, he already sees the
campaign as a victory. Namely, he wants to send a message to his 8-year-old
stepson with his unlikely bid.


“If I win, it proves that America is a place where two people can disagree on
something and that peacefully and through this wonderful system that we have
set up 200 years ago, right makes might, not might makes right,” he said. “I
hope my little boy someday can look back and go, ‘My stepdad stood up and did
the right thing.’”