An Ohio judge who also serves as an elder in his local congregation has refused to marry two lesbians this week based on his “personal and Christian beliefs” about marriage.
Toledo Municipal Judge C. Allen McConnell, an elder at First Church of God in Columbus, declined to officiate for Carolyn Wilson and her partner this past Monday 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,” 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. Reports state that Wilson was the first homosexual to approach the court to request to be “wed” to their partner.
McConnell is now seeking advisement from the state Supreme Court in regard to his ability to opt out of officiating over same-sex ceremonies.
“The court has implemented a process whereby same-sex marriages will be accommodated,” he said. “I will continue to perform traditional marriages during my duties assignment. I am also seeking advisory opinion from the Supreme Court of Ohio at this time as to whether or not I can opt out of the rotation. Upon receipt of the advisory opinion from Supreme Court, I will abide by its decision.”
Rob Salem, clinical law professor at the University of Toledo, says that even though McConnell identifies as a Christian, because he serves as a public official, he doesn’t have the same freedoms that a pastor does.
“I don’t think this is a very complicated issue. This court, the Toledo Municipal Court, requires the Judge on duty to perform marriages,” Toledo News Now. “Judge McConnell took an oath of office when he became judge to uphold the laws of this land. He vowed also to apply those laws as equally and fairly without any regard to his own personal biases and prejudices.”
The Ohio Supreme Court has released a general statement, outlining that direction will be provided to judges in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s declaration on same-sex nuptials.
“The judicial college as well as other institutions provide education to judges about new case law, statute changes, best practices, etc,” it wrote. “The topic of a municipal court judge’s statutory powers and duties have been addressed in previous educational opportunities and will continue to be addressed, particularly in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell case.”