Saying that the recent resignation of a town clerk is "just the beginning," a New York group has announced a fund to assist more clerks and other "people of conscience" who suffer consequences on the job for invoking their religious beliefs against the new marriage equality law.
"Laura Fotusky is just the beginning," said the announcement of the Courage Fund from New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a group of evangelical Protestants who protested the bill signed into law last month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The group heralded Fotusky, the town clerk of Barker, who resigned from her $24,205-a-year position earlier this month rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and officiate ceremonies in opposition to her faith.
The marriage equality law takes effect in New York this Sunday, when opponents including New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms plan to protest the first same-sex marriages to take place at clerk offices open outside normal business hours.
According to the announcement from New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, the Courage Fund aims to raise money to replace the salary of Fotusky and other people who object to the new law, and to fight marriage equality in New York in general.
"Imagine the power of 25,000 Christians from all across the nation sending one dollar to let Laura know that she is not alone," said the Reverend Jason McGuire, the group's executive director. "That would be a message of Christian testimony the culture could not ignore."
"Now imagine if every concerned citizen from all across America did whatever they could, $10, $100 or $1000 to fight for marriage in the Empire State," he added. "We could turn back the tide in New York and send a message that resounds across the nation."
McGuire and his group refer to a memo from the conservative Christian organization Alliance Defense Fund, which is offering free legal advice to clerks who object to the marriage equality law. According to the memo, New York law requires employers to accommodate "sincerely held religious beliefs," and a clerk's duty to issue marriage licenses can be delegated to a deputy or other municipal employee.
Governor Cuomo, a former state attorney general, appears to disagree, having said that clerks should follow the laws of the state or resign their jobs. He said Fotusky made the right decision by resigning.
The Cuomo administration and state Senate Republicans negotiated religious exemptions to the marriage equality law that allow religious organizations to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages or permit their private facilities, such as catering halls to be used for celebrations. However, opponents have said the exemptions, which track existing human rights law, are inadequate. They want protections for individuals that would seem to conflict with the state's antidiscrimination laws.
"For licensed Christian counselors, not directly affiliated with a church, a day may come when the state may refuse licensure to those who practice reparative or ex-gay therapy," wrote New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms earlier this month. "Wedding photographers and caterers will similarly find no protection. Refuse to photograph or serve a gay nuptial and people with strong convictions concerning the authentic definition of marriage will find themselves vulnerable to a lawsuit."