Two Oregon circuit court judges — one in Washington County and the other in Marion County — got extensive national media attention this past month because they are declining, for religious reasons, to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Both Washington County Judge Thomas Kohl and Marion County Judge Vance Day are known as devout Christians.
Kohl acknowledged in an email to The Oregonian that last summer, for “personal faith-based reasons,” he had decided to no longer perform weddings as a judge. He declined further comment.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Oregon as a result of a May 2014 decision by a U.S. District Court judge. State law allows judges to perform marriage ceremonies but doesn’t require them to provide the service.
Kohl has held his judgeship since 1997, and Day since 2011, both initially appointed by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber. As noted by The Oregonian, Kohl’s situation is different from Day’s in that Kohl is not currently facing any complaint or investigation, while Day is.
Day’s refusal to perform same-sex weddings was one factor in an investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability. That panel alleges that Day’s actions and statements are calling into question his impartiality as a judge.
According to the commission, Day told his staff to send same-sex marriage requests to other judges. Like Kohl, Day has stopped doing any wedding ceremonies.
The Oregonian further reported that the state commission’s probe looked into additional allegations against Day, including that Day displayed a picture of Adolf Hitler in the Salem courthouse, allowed a convicted felon to handle a gun and took lawyers’ money to fund a pet project. Day denies doing anything improper and explained that the Hitler picture was part of a war-memorabilia collage intended to honor veterans.
A commission hearing is set for Nov. 9; Day has secured state approval to establish a legal defense fund.
Kohl wrote a book titled Losing Megan, and also speaks to audiences in prisons and churches, on how his faith in Christ enabled him to forgive the man who is now serving life in prison for killing Kohl’s 21-year-old daughter in a murder-for-hire plot in 2006.
Day received his bachelor’s degree from Warner Pacific College and law degree from Willamette University. He has worked at Regent University in Virginia and Middle East Television, both affiliated with the Christian Broadcasting Network. He attends Morning Star Community Church in Salem.
His stance on marriage garnered substantial criticism in local media; for example, Oregonian columnist Steve Duin wrote that Day should step down from the bench.
But both Day and Kohl also received support from Christian media and legal agencies nationally. Among those strongly backing both judges and their right to accommodation of their religious beliefs was Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who in his blog charged that Day is now facing an “all-out smear campaign” by gay rights activists.