Another Judge Ducks Same-Sex Marriage

     HILLSBORO, Ore. (CN) – A second Oregon judge has stopped performing wedding ceremonies to avoid marrying same-sex couples, citing religious reasons.
     “Last summer for personal faith-based reasons, I decided to not perform weddings as a judge,” Washington County Judge Thomas W. Kohl told The Oregonian newspaper. “This is a personal choice based on my faith.”
     Kohl did not return a requests for comment.
     Richard Moellmer, trial court administrator at Washington County Circuit Court, confirmed that that Judge Kohl stopped performing marriages last summer.
     He could not say why, but the timing is telling.
     On May 19, 2014, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane struck down Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage.
     Moellmer said nine of the 14 judges at the Washington County Courthouse perform marriages, and that each of those nine judges has been performing marriages continuously since before McShane’s decision.
     The court doesn’t have the kind of detailed records of marriage ceremonies that it keeps for other cases, Moellmer added.
     “Only some of our judges perform marriages and those may take place within the court or out in the community,” Moellmer said. “And those aren’t scheduled the way criminal or civil proceedings are.”
     “It’s just the nature of the optional judge function where they have the choice to decided whether to perform marriages,” Moellmer said.
     Former Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed Kohl to the bench in 1997. He has subsequently been elected three times.
     Washington County is in the hills west of Portland. It is 82 percent white, 7 percent Hispanic and 7 percent Asian, and its median household income of $63,000 is about 23 percent above the statewide median. It is closely divided between Republican and Democratic voters, but tends to lean Democratic.
     Kohl is the second Oregon judge to refuse to marry same-sex couples. Marion County Circuit Court Judge Vance Day also refused, and is facing other troubles.
     The Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability filed a complaint accusing him of screening applicants for marriage licenses to avoid performing same-sex weddings.
     The commission also objected that he hung a painting of Adolf Hitler in the Marion County Courthouse.
     In his answer to the complaint, Day said that he “was never informed that wall hangings to be displayed in the Marion County Courthouse had to be pre-approved for display by anyone.”     
     For ACLU Oregon, there is more than free speech at stake.
     “We don’t want to stymie the First Amendment rights of judges, but we also recognize that they need to strike a balance because of the position they are in – in a public forum – in order to avoid undermining confidence in the judiciary system,” that group’s legal director, Mathew dos Santos, said in a phone interview.
     “Judge Kohl’s stance on not performing marriage at all may not be as concerning as the way Judge Day played his hand by refusing to marry same sex while still performing other marriages,” dos Santos said.
     “But the concern is the same,” he added. “The concern is, fundamentally, as a queer person going before these judges, you have wonder whether your rights will be fully heard and full appreciated.”
     Dos Santos said he liked the way Nebraska had handled the issue.”Nebraska decided that if judges are going to perform the administrative duty of performing marriages at all, then they should do it for everyone,” he said. “And I think that’s probably the right answer.”

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