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Oregon Judge Who Won't Perform Same-Sex Marriages Hit With Ethics Counts

An Oregon state judge faces an ethics hearing in connection to his refusal to perform same-sex marriages.
IMAGE: Marion County, Oregon, Circuit Judge Vance Day
Marion County, Oregon, Circuit Judge Vance Day.AP — file

An Oregon state judge faces an ethics hearing in November in connection with his refusal to perform same-sex marriages and several other allegations, a proceeding the judge on Tuesday called an unconstitutional assault on "core political speech."

In a 13-count statement of allegations, the state Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability found no specific fault with Marion County Circuit Judge Vance Day's refusal to perform same-sex weddings — something he isn't required to do under county law. Day stopped performing any weddings earlier this year rather than preside over same-sex marriages.

The ethics panel, however, alleged that before he stopped performing marriages, Day — a former chairman of the state Republican Party — ordered his staff screen wedding applicants to ensure that they weren't of the same sex.

A spokesman for Day told NBC station KGW of Portland last week, when criticism of Day's decision became public, that Day was acting on his "deeply held religious beliefs" and was exercising his "religious freedom rights under the First Amendment."

Marion County, Oregon, Circuit Judge Vance Day.AP — file

In his 44-page counterclaim Tuesday, Day not only denied that he did anything inappropriate, but he also accused the commission of failing to perform its investigative duties in "good faith," accusing it of having targeted him because of his "firmly held religious beliefs rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition that defines marriage as between a female and a male."

The complaint "fails to provide fair warning to judges like Judge Day that their unwillingness to perform non-mandatory, non-judicial duties because of sincerely-held religious beliefs is unconstitutionally vague under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution."

The allegations against Day extend beyond the dispute over same-sex marriage. The most unusual one is that Day — who presides over the county's Veterans Treatment Court — hung a portrait of Adolf Hitler in the Marion County Courthouse.

"Three wall hangings were created and hung in July of 2014 to honor the service of a local medical doctor," according to Day's response. "One of the wall hangings emphasized how a liberal democracy overcame the scourge of fascism and, as part of the background behind [the doctor's] memorabilia, the wall hanging did contain an old painting from that period of Adolf Hitler."

The items were later removed, according to Day's response.

The 11 other allegations that will be heard at the hearing Nov. 9 in Salem, the state capital, include claims that:

  • Day submitted a false statement in connection with an investigation of a confrontation with a referee at his son's soccer game. Day said he accurately recounted the incident.
  • Day falsely denied that he knew that a veteran appearing in Veterans Court was a felon.
  • Day inappropriately allowed the same veteran to handle a firearm despite his conviction. Day's response said that he "admits that his explanation was in-artful" but that the incident didn't constitute misconduct.
  • Day collected money from lawyers — some of whom appeared before him in court — to sponsor veteran-related wall hangings in the courthouse. Day's response said he did collect donations for the wall hangings but did nothing inappropriate because the donations were independently offered by the lawyers.
  • Day conducted himself in the county courthouse in a manner that demonstrated political bias and disrespect for court staff. Day's response flatly denied those counts.