Oregon Supreme Court Hears Case Against Judge Who Refused Same-Sex Marriages

Jun 15, 2017
Originally published on June 14, 2017 5:20 pm

The Oregon Supreme Court is deciding whether to discipline a Marion County Circuit Court — or even remove him from the bench.

Judge Vance Day made headlines in 2015 when his refusal to perform same-sex weddings surfaced.

In 2014, Day reported to the state’s Judicial Fitness Commission that he was present when a felon under his supervision held a gun, a violation of the law.

During the course of its investigation, the Judicial Fitness Commission said it found a number of other issues and policy violations, including Day intimidating a college soccer referee at a game in 2013 and instructing his employees to tell same-sex couples he was unavailable to perform marriages, regardless of whether that was the case.

On Wednesday, before the Oregon's highest court, his attorney made a case for why Day should remain a judge.

The state’s Judicial Fitness Commission has recommended Day be removed from the bench. During Wednesday's hearing in Salem, the attorney for the commission continued to press, arguing Day should be removed.

Day is not currently hearing cases but remains on the bench.

It’s ultimately up to the Supreme Court to decide what, if any, disciplinary action to take.

Attorneys for Day acknowledge the judge made a mistake with respect to the firearm incident — one that he self-reported to the commission. But the attorneys say to have that one incident turn into to a much larger investigation is inappropriate.

“Our belief is he’s being targeted for his Christian beliefs,” said Ralph Spooner, one of Day’s attorneys.

“In our society, it’s perfectly fine to test these legal principals," Spooner said following Wednesday's hearing, "but I think whether you’re a Christian, a Muslim — whatever your faith is — that doesn’t disqualify you from being a judge."

One of the biggest issues with respect to this case is that Day ordered his staff to screen marriage license applicants to determine whether they were same-sex couples. According to the commission, Day didn’t want to marry same-sex couples because of his religious beliefs. Ultimately, the judge decided he wouldn’t marry anyone, regardless of who it was.

Part of what the Oregon Supreme Court could be deciding is whether marriage amounts to an official judicial duty. The attorney for the Judicial Fitness Commission argued it is, but Day’s attorney argued to the justices it was not.

Officials with the commission declined an interview request after Wednesday’s hearing, but said they stand by their investigation and findings.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the coming weeks or months.

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