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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 21, 2011

In wake of Marriage Equality Act
Town clerk resigns as marriage officer

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — Town Clerk Rosemary Centi will no longer perform marriage ceremonies once the Marriage Equality Act takes effect at midnight on July 24.

“I’m a Catholic,” she said. “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.” The act, which passed on June 24, allows exemptions for clergy who oppose same-sex marriage, and do not wish to perform the rites, but does not address civil service.

Centi is the second town clerk in New York State to refuse to perform same-sex marriages; however, while Laura Fotusky, a clerk in Broome County, has resigned from her position entirely, Centi will keep her job and issue marriage licenses. She just won’t perform the ceremonies.

“I felt I didn’t want to put my name on anything that was against God,” Fotusky told The Enterprise this week, noting that she did not wish to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“It was conflicting with my faith,” said Fotusky. Centi is able to continue on in her elected position as town clerk, without performing ceremonies, because the two duties are separate. She was elected as the clerk in 2000, and appointed as the town’s marriage officer, an unpaid position, in 2001.

Giving out marriage licenses, though, is part of the town clerk’s job.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion said that Centi’s letter of resignation came in while he was on vacation, and he received a phone call that the town no longer had a marriage officer.

“I don’t remember having any discussions with Rosemary about it when I got back, other than acknowledging that we had to handle appointing a new marriage officer,” said Runion this week.

“Issuing licenses is part of my duties. I talked to my priest, and he understood the position I was in; he felt it was enough that I resign as marriage officer,” said Centi. The marriages Centi has performed — she said she did 11 this year — were civil ceremonies, and therefore not considered a sacrament, as marriages are in the Catholic Church. Even so, Centi said marrying same sex-couples was an “entirely different thing” for her.

“There really ought to be an exemption for people like these clerks,” said Donald Kommers, a professor of Constitutional law and political science at Notre Dame, a Catholic university. He made two analogies for the situation — a doctor who doesn’t want to perform an abortion, and a person drafted into the military who refuses to kill.

“If a person refuses simply because he doesn’t like the law, that’s one thing, but if it is because of a serious violation of conscience, there should be an exemption,” Kommers said. “Reasonable people who serve with her should understand,” he said of Centi.

“I really hope that people respect my opinion. I don’t begrudge anyone else their opinion,” said Centi. She expressed sadness for Fotusky having to resign from her job outright, especially when she has young children at home.

“I was just obeying God; I have no idea where I am going to go from here,” Fotusky told The Enterprise. Both women said they had received feedback regarding their decisions, some negative, but most positive.

“Ninety-percent of the feedback has been positive. Some of it has brought me to tears,” said Centi.

“I have received some letters and phone calls against the stand I’ve taken, but most have been positive, and have far outweighed the negative,” Fotusky said.

Both clerks said they believed that there were more people in the same occupation throughout the state who are struggling with the same decision. 

“It’s her personal choice,” said Runion, of Centi’s resignation. “However, we are government officials, and, when we get elected by the town, there may be laws we don’t agree with — we have to set aside our beliefs to an extent.”

Runion said he would be scheduling a special meeting of the town board for Sunday, July 24, to appoint a new marriage officer.

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