A judge in Toledo, Ohio, awaits word from an ethics board, appointed by the state’s supreme court, after declining to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony earlier this month.
Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell, 71, informed a lesbian couple through his bailiff that he would not be able to officiate over their marriage ceremony. The bailiff told the couple the judge didn’t perform “these types of marriages,” according to Carolyn Wilson, 51, one of the women seeking to be married that day.
The Toledo Blade reports that after about 45 minutes, the two were married when another judge, William M. Connelly, Jr., stepped in to perform the ceremony.
“You wait so long for this opportunity,” Wilson said of the ability to marry. “Because we wanted to handle it civilly, we didn’t think there would be any issue at all.”
The situation was “embarrassing” and “put a damper on the day,” she told the Toledo Blade, especially since McConnell didn’t come out to meet her and her partner. (The other woman said she didn’t want to be identified because of her employer.)
In a statement released two days later, Judge McConnell explained his actions:
On Monday, July 6, I declined to marry a non-traditional couple during my duties assignment. The declination was based upon my personal and Christian beliefs established over many years.
I apologize to the couple for the delay they experienced and wish them the best. The court has implemented a process whereby same-sex marriages will be accommodated. I will continue to perform traditional marriages during my duties assignment.
I am also seeking an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court of Ohio at this time as to whether or not I can opt out of the rotation. Upon receipt of the advisory opinion from the Supreme Court, I will abide by its decision.
Ohio Supreme Court spokesman Bret Crow said McConnell’s “request would need to go before a board appointed by the court that handles conduct and ethics matters involving judges,” the Associated Pressreports.
Nick Komives, executive director for Equality Toledo, said the organization is looking for an apology from Judge McConnell.
“[The couple] didn’t deserve to be humiliated; they didn’t deserve to be inconvenienced,” he said. “That’s just wrong, and we won’t tolerate it. It is his duty to perform this ceremony, and if he’s not willing to perform his duties, he needs to step down.”
Judge McConnell cannot be dismissed as a right wing, intolerant judge. He is a Democrat who has been a leader in Toledo’s NAACP, Urban League and Legal Aid Society. His passion for the law was borne out of his experience living through the Civil Rights era. (Judge Connelly, who stepped in to perform the ceremony, is a Republican).
Lucas County Democratic Party Chairman Joshua Hughes told the Toledo Blade that the party was “disappointed” with Judge McConnell’s refusal to marry the couple.
“Notwithstanding Judge McConnell’s long history of service to this community, it is disappointing that Ms. Wilson and her wife were delayed in the exercise of this right by Judge McConnell,” Hughes said in a written statement.
The Toledo Blade reports:
This isn’t the first problem in implementing same-sex marriages in Lucas County.
Charles Shaffer, county probate court administrator, said the committee that oversees three rotating ministers who perform weddings in the Lucas County Courthouse will discuss how to handle two of the ministers, The Rev. John Oliver and the Rev. General Frank Sherman, who have said they will not perform same-sex weddings.
The Rev. Sandra Frost, the third minister, was called in June 26, the day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationally, to marry any same-sex couples who applied for a license. She has been “on-call” to perform such ceremonies when the other two are scheduled, Mr. Shaffer said.
Caleb Dalton, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Daily Signal that governments should balance the First Amendment free exercise of religion interests of Judge McConnell and others who hold to the traditional view of marriage against the state’s requirement to perform same-sex marriages.
“The ability of the couple to find someone to solemnize their ceremony in 45 minutes illustrates that there is no substantial government interest in forcing this judge to violate his sincerely held beliefs,” he said.
Dalton, litigation counsel with the Christian legal organization based in Arizona, added:
We have over 200 years of experience of balancing religious beliefs with other important legal and social issues, and every American, whether they’re a public official or a private party, should be able to live and work according to their beliefs. Permitting a judge, a clerk, or any other official to refer a public service to another willing public servant doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights. And yet forcing people to participate in what they view as an inherently religious ceremony would trample on hundreds of years of Western civilization’s development of freedom and tolerance of diverse views.
BCN editor’s note: This article first appeared at Western Journalism.