COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio has released its formal opinion regarding whether judges must officiate same-sex “weddings” despite their religious convictions, declaring that homosexuals must be accommodated no matter what.
“Ohio judges who perform civil marriages may not ethically refuse to perform civil marriages involving same-sex couples while continuing to perform marriages involving opposite-sex couples,” the board wrote on Friday. “Ohio judges may not ethically decline to perform all marriages in order to avoid marrying same-sex couples based on their personal, moral, or religious beliefs.”
The board had received requests for guidance on the matter after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in June in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, declaring that all states must legalize same-sex “marriage.” An unspecified number of judges and a judicial association had inquired of the board whether judges are permitted to decline to officiate same-sex nuptials or bow out of officiating over weddings altogether.
In its opinion, the board pointed to the judicial oath of office, in which justices must promise to “faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all of the duties incumbent upon me as a judge according to the best of my ability and understanding.” However, the oath concludes with the phrase, “This I do as I shall answer unto God.”
“The oath is a reflection of the self-evident principle that the personal, moral, and religious beliefs of a judicial officer should never factor into the performance of any judicial duty,” the board wrote. “A judge’s unilateral decision to refuse to perform same-sex marriages based on his or her own personal, religious, or moral beliefs ignores the holding in Obergefell and thus, directly contravenes the oath of office.”
It further asserted that “[p]ublic confidence in the independence of the judiciary is undermined when a judge allows his or her beliefs concerning the societal or religious acceptance or validity of same-sex marriage to affect the performance of a judicial function or duty.”
The board then contended that judges who seek to cease officiation over all marriage ceremonies to avoid performing same-sex nuptials may be considered “prejudice.”
“A judge who publicly states or implies a personal objection to performing same-sex marriages and reacts by ceasing to perform all marriages acts contrary to the mandate to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety,” the board opined. “A judge who is willing to perform marriages of only opposite-sex couples because of his or her personal, moral, or religious beliefs, may be viewed as possessing a bias or prejudice against a specific class or group of people based on sexual orientation.”
As previously reported, the most high profile matter that played a role in sparking the Board of Professional Conduct opinion involved Toledo Municipal Judge C. Allen McConnell, an elder at First Church of God in Columbus. Last month, McConnell declined to officiate for a lesbian woman and her partner because of his Christian faith. The women, upset about the matter, then went to the media to lodge a complaint.
“[T]he bailiff came out and asked to speak to us in the hallway. We were told at that time that Judge McConnell didn’t do this type of wedding and we would have to go somewhere else,” Carolyn Wilson told reporters. “She said he doesn’t perform these type of marriages and that was left to interpretation. We didn’t follow up; we made assumptions that it was based on same-sex.”
In a statement released by the judge following the incident, he explained his reasoning for the decline.
“The declination was based upon my personal and Christian beliefs established over many years,” McConnell wrote. “I apologize to the couple for the delay they experienced and wish them the best.”
Another judge officiated over the two after McConnell declined.