Resigned to partial coverage

As I read The New York Times' somewhat celebratory coverage about the first legal same-sex marriages in the Empire State, I sensed that everyone was happy, save those predictable few cranks from the Westboro church.

Among the happy were judges and clerks who came in on their day off to officiate at these history-making unions, which led me to imagine that had I been the editor in charge, I would have asked the scribes in the trenches: Were there any clerks who weren't happy about their broader duties?

A few taps of the keys took me to a July 13 story by the Times' Thomas Kaplan, who answered the question.

Laura L. Fotusky, the town clerk in Barker, N.Y., a small community north of Binghamton, looked at the calendar, looked at her Bible and knew what she had to do.

She drafted a letter to the Town Board and said she would resign on July 21, three days before same-sex marriage becomes legal, because she could not in good conscience issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

"I believe that there is a higher law than the law of the land," she wrote. "It is the law of God in the Bible."

Ms. Fotusky's resignation is the starkest illustration yet that the same-sex marriage debate, although settled in Albany, is continuing to roil New York.

In his well-reported piece, Kaplan included a discussion about the potential effect of the law on people like businessman "Clifton S. McLaughlin, 45, the president of Christian DJ Enterprises in the Bronx, who said in an interview that while no same-sex couples had inquired yet about his services, he would decline their business if any did."

"I would just let them know that I love them as God's creation," Mr. McLaughlin said, "but based on my Christian faith and my belief in God and what the Bible teaches, I cannot and I don't support gay lifestyles."

At least two other clerks found the new law at odds with their faith-based conscience. In the July 19 edition of the Post Standard in Syracuse, Paul Riede wrote about one of them:

Ruth Sheldon was knee deep in work Monday. As town clerk in Granby, she was busy with the census of the town's dogs.

… "I'm getting so many distractions from these reporters and so forth that are calling, and I have an enormous amount of work to do," she said.

The reporters weren't interested in the dog census. They were calling about her decision to resign her post rather than honor the state's same-sex marriage law. Her last day is Saturday — the day before the law goes into effect.

Every time the phone rang, Sheldon, 65, had to shift gears from counting dogs to discussing matters of law and faith. Like the other 931 town clerks across the state, she is suddenly on the front lines of an issue that is drawing international attention.

So we know some were out there, and we know what they were thinking before July 24. But I couldn't find either of their names in the Times' coverage of the day. How about vignettes about how each of the women spent her day?

I referred to the Times' coverage as celebratory, a conclusion that I'm not alone in drawing. In a 2004 piece, Daniel Okrent, former (and first) Times ombudsman, concluded that the Times reported about the same-sex marriage issue "in a tone that approaches cheerleading."

A slice from the lives of the civil servants who stood their ground on conscience would not have been rain on the parade and might have blunted the perception that the Times was the head cheerleader for the event. Once again, the goal is more voices, more points of view. In other words, diversity. In other words, journalism.

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