Laura Fotusky, the clerk of the small, upstate New York town of Barker, has resigned her position rather than face the prospect of violating her religious conscience in signing marriage licenses for same-sex couples when the state’s new marriage law takes effect on July 24. Her letter of resignation is posted at the website of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a group that was heavily involved in the unsuccessful legislative fight to prevent the law’s passage.
Ms. Fotusky’s reasoning is crystal-clear:
“I had to choose between my job and my God.”
Fotusky is now the second town clerk in New York State we’ve heard from on this subject. Barbara MacEwen from Volney also publicly objected to being forced to sign the marriage licenses in violation of her religious conscience, but has reportedly arranged for deputy clerks to handle that function. Perhaps Ms. Fotusky’s town is not large enough to have any deputy clerks, but it strikes me that MacEwen’s plan (to refer same-sex couples to a deputy clerk) is eminently reasonable, and yet no doubt bound to draw criticism from gay marriage advocates, some of whom will submit comments to this post arguing that if you’re a public employee, you are required to do everything your job description entails, or you should find a new job.
But there are federal statutory precedents (and probably related state laws) for accommodating religion in the employment context. Under Title VII, our federal labor non-discrimination law – which applies to state and local government as well as private employers – requires the employer to “reasonably accommodate” the religious practices of its employees so long as no “undue hardship” is created for the employer. Asking a deputy clerk or other city official to sign a marriage license easily qualifies as a “reasonable accommodation,” in my opinion.
I’m aware that religious “practices” might be different, legally speaking, than religious “beliefs.” But the line between practices and beliefs can be paper-thin in some or even most instances, because beliefs drive the practices. And, the very fact that federal law already addresses the protection of religious practices tells me that the accommodation of religious beliefs – such as Ms. Fotusky’s and Ms. MacEwen’s – is a small extension of the concept, if indeed it is an extension at all.
Unless the goal of gay activists is heavy-handed government coercion of people of faith into acting contrary to their religious beliefs with regard to sexuality and marriage, then the accommodation of those religious beliefs – as cases like Fotusky’s and MacEwen’s make clear – ought to be an easy concession from those who use “tolerance” as their talking point.
I fear, however, that the coercion I just mentioned is the ultimate goal of gay marriage proponents. Tolerance, it seems, does not quite extend to those who believe differently.