A state judge in Oregon who was disciplined for, among other things, refusing to perform weddings for same-sex couples won’t have his case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Marion County Circuit Court Judge Vance Day ran into problems a few years ago when word got out that he had directed his staff to screen couples seeking weddings and refer those who were of the same sex to other judges. He later announced that he would stop performing marriages altogether.
Day had engaged in some other strange activities. For some reason, he arranged for a likeness of Adolf Hitler to hang in a courthouse exhibit, told a convicted felon he could carry a gun and was accused of soliciting attorneys for money.
“As a conservative – a Christian and a Republican – I know there are people who don’t like my profile as a judge,” Day told the Portland Oregonian. “I was trying to stay under the radar, stay true to my religious beliefs, not be rude to people, and gently step away from the situation.”
The Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability didn’t see it that way. The oversight body investigated Day and recommended that he be terminated. The Oregon Supreme Court later reduced that sentence to a three-year suspension without pay.
The commission noted that Day willfully engaged in deception. After marriage equality became the law of the land in Oregon in 2014, Day, the commission’s report noted, “told his staff that, upon receiving any marriage request, they should check for any personal gender information available in the court’s case register system, to try to determine whether the request involved a same-sex couple. If so, they should tell the couple that he was not available on the requested date or otherwise notify him so that he could decide how to proceed. If the request were from an opposite-sex couple, however, then they should schedule the wedding date.”
Day fought the punishment in court but lost. The U.S. Supreme Court was his final resort. “Religion Clause,” a blog that covers the high court, noted that Day’s final appeal was rejected by the court yesterday.
This situation is a good reminder of the difference between religious leaders and government officials. Both are empowered to perform marriages, but, thanks to the separation of church and state, the law treats them differently.
A religious leader has the right to refuse to preside at any couple’s wedding for any reason, but that’s not the case for municipal officials. If you work for the government, and performing marriage ceremonies is part of your job, you had better be ready to offer that service to all people who are legally entitled to it. You don’t get to pick and choose.
If you absolutely cannot do that, the decent thing to do is resign and let someone who’s willing to serve all comers without discriminating take over.