In 1967 the Supreme Court closed the door on the Jim Crow era with its landmark ruling in the Loving v Virginia case that found the anti-miscegenation laws that banned interracial marriages to be unconstitutional. I was born in 1968 in a small rural town in Georgia. My youth bore witness to the last vestiges of that arcane era. Yet, today in 2011 the state I now call home as an adult, bears witness to an attempt to rekindle variations of the Jim Crow laws. Rose Marie Belforti, a town clerk for Ledyard, New York, is using the same arguments that racists once used to defend anti-miscegenation laws against interracial marriage; that religious viewpoints somehow trump the American ideals of equality and equal access under the law. Yet one need not go all the way back to 1967 to find that Belforti does not appear to have the law on her side. In fact, a very recent and similar case in Illinois shows that legal precedent is very much against Belforti. Catholic Charities had their adoption contract with the state cancelled over their refusal to work with gay couples, and much like Belforti, they claimed that freedom of religion protected their right to discriminate. Yet in that case the court sided with the state and the cancellation of the contract was upheld.
Beyond the inevitable law suit in which Belforti, and possibly the town itself could be held liable, town residents luckily have an opportunity to make the decision on their own without a court mandate, through the election process. Ed Easter, a Republican, believes a town clerk must uphold the law regardless of their religious views, and he is running against Belforti. And this is an issue that goes far beyond just gay rights. What precedent would be set by allowing Belforti to continue to discriminate? What happens if upon further reflection, Belforti decides that her religious views mandate that she no longer issues marriage licenses to anyone who has previously been divorced? Divorce is a sin according to the Bible. And just as the Bible lists gays as an “abomination” it also states that people who eat shellfish or wear cloth woven of two different fabrics are also abominations in the eyes of God. So if Belforti sees you eating at a Redlobster restaurant, should she be able to deny you a marriage license based on her religious views? What if you showed up at the clerk’s office wearing a poly-lycra blended shirt? What happens if she decides it’s against her religious views to issue marriage licenses to interracial couples? It’s a very slippery slope Belforti has set this town atop of. In the end the residents of Ledyard will either stand up for the American ideals of equality and equal access under the law, or they will the stain the town as one that endorsed a return to the Jim Crow era. The election is next month, time will tell.