Ohio judges can’t refuse to perform same-sex marriages, Board advises

The Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio has issued an advisory opinion finding that Ohio judges may not ethically refuse to perform same-sex marriages. In response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that eliminated same-sex marriage bans nationwide the Board analyzed:

(1) whether a judge can refuse to perform same-sex marriages based on personal, moral or religious beliefs, but continue to perform opposite-sex marriages, and

(2) whether a judge can refuse to perform all marriages to avoid having to perform marriages for same-sex couples.

The Board found that Ohio judges cannot refuse to perform same-sex marriages while continuing to perform opposite-sex marriages without violating the judicial oath of office and both judicial conduct and professional conduct rules. The Board also found that judges who refuse to perform all marriages to avoid performing same-sex marriages "may be interpreted as manifesting an improper bias or prejudice toward a particular class." This could result in disqualification in cases where sexual orientation is at issue, as this position might bring the judge's impartiality into question.

According to an article from the Northeast Ohio Media Group, the Board issued the opinion in response to a request from Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell. McConnell had refused to to perform a same-sex marriage after the Obergefell ruling, citing personal and religious reasons, and asked the Ohio Supreme Court for guidance on his duties. Regarding obligations under the the judicial oath of office, the Board wrote,

The oath represents the judge’s solemn and personal vow that he or she will impartially perform all duties incumbent on the office and do so without regard to the status or class of persons or parties who come before the court. 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.

Advisory opinions are non-binding opinions made in response to hypothetical questions regarding Ohio's ethical rules. For more information about the opinion, see this article from Court News Ohio.

Photo credit: Ted Eytan via Flickr.