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Oregon Supreme Court Rules Against Oregon Judge Who Refused To Marry Same-Sex Couples (AKA Do His Job)

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March 15, 2018
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The Oregon Supreme Court today affirmed a determination by the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability that Judge Vance D. Day had violated state rules of judicial ethics when he devised a scheme to avoid marrying same-sex couples by instructing court staff to investigate the gender of marriage applicants and represent that he was unavailable if they were of the same sex, among other charges.

The Court also upheld the three-year suspension the Commission had levied on Judge Day.

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn and Fair Courts Project Attorney Ethan Rice, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Commission to the Oregon Supreme Court, issued the following statements:

“Courts must be open for business to everyone, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.  No government employee can refuse to serve a member of the general public based on bias or prejudice, much less a judge entrusted with public office who takes an oath to perform judicial duties fairly and impartially,” Renn said.

“Although judges are not required to perform marriages, they must refrain from bias or prejudice when they choose to do so.”

“A judge is a public official, not a priest, and is required to perform the duties of the office without bias or prejudice,” Rice said. “We applaud the Oregon Supreme Court for reaffirming that responsibility. Judicial ethics rules that include anti-discrimination provisions on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity are critical to ensuring fairness in the courts, and to maintaining public confidence in the impartiality of courts.  The Oregon Supreme Court reasserted the importance of enforcement of these rules in its decision.”

The Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling mirrors that of all disciplinary tribunals across the country to have considered the issue:  a judge’s refusal to perform marriages for same-sex couples on equal terms as for different-sex couples violates judicial conduct rules. 

Lambda Legal’s Fair Courts Project works to preserve judicial independence and improve access to justice for all people. The success of Lambda Legal’s work in the courts depends on the assurance that LGBT individuals and everyone living with HIV will receive fair and impartial treatment.