Marion County Judge Vance Day has not performed a single marriage since spring, a reaction to his state of Oregon legalizing same-sex marriage back in May 2014. His staff has been instructed to refer inquiring same-sex couples to other judges. Thursday it became public that Day is facing an ethics investigation.
Day’s decision to cease performing all marriages arrived before the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide in June 2015. Instead, his refusal to solemnize ceremonies was in response to Oregon’s legalization of same-sex marriage a year beforehand.
Day is a former chairman of the Oregon Republican Party.
According to spokesman Patrick Korten, Day’s “deeply-held religious beliefs” prohibit him from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, KGW reports.
“It’s an exercise of his religious freedom rights under the First Amendment,” says Korten.
The Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability launched the investigation into Day’s ethical conduct.
Day requested that he be allowed to establish a legal defense fund Thursday. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission approved his request by unanimous decision, Oregonlive reports.
Oregon state law allows for Day to set up a fund to cover his potential legal expenses. What the judge is accused of doing is not clear and it is unlikely that specifics will emerge soon as the investigation is ongoing. The first hearing on the case is scheduled for November.
The investigation of Day was announced the same day that a federal judge jailed a Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, after she was found in contempt of court. Davis had, like Day, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex. Davis cited her religious beliefs as her defense, another similarity to the Oregon judge.
Marion County law does not require that judges be forced to solemnize marriages.
The state of Oregon also provides a number of public officials who can issue marriage licenses, Oregonlive reports. These can include state and federal judges, court clerks and religious congregations. These factors could aid Day avoid a fate similar to that of Davis.
According to the Statesman Journal, the Marion County website provides a list of judges available to perform ceremonies that does not include Day.