TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - Almost two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage, a Toledo Municipal Court Judge refused to perform a local same-sex couple's wedding ceremony.
After Carolyn Wilson and her partner were told that the Duty Judge would not marry them on Monday, Judge C. Allen McConnell has issued a statement on the incident:
"On Monday, July 6, I declined to marry a non-traditional couple during my duties assignment. The declination was based upon my personal and Christian beliefs established over many years. I apologize to the couple for the delay they experienced and wish them the best. The court has implemented a process whereby same-sex marriages will be accommodated. 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."
Equality Toledo Board Member and attorney Rob Salem says the statement doesn't comply with the laws of the court.
"I don't think this is a very complicated issue. This court, the Toledo Municipal Court, requires the Judge on duty to perform marriages," he said. "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."
Equality Toledo Executive Director Nick Komives says the wording in the statement itself was upsetting, and after speaking with Wilson, she echoed the same sentiments.
"He referred to the couple as non-traditional. and the Supreme Court just said that's not the case," he said. "It's also upsetting because they were asking for an apology from him and rather than actually giving a true apology, he decided to apologize for their wait time. Which just frankly is not enough. She (Wilson) was really just not satisfied with the apology that they received and I think rightfully so. They were humiliated by what happened and then had to wait, so I can see why they're so upset."
Because Judge McConnell is a public official, Salem says he doesn't have the same discretion as religious clergy do.
"He's here to serve all people. Not just the people that he likes," said Salem. "In addition, it calls into question whether or not he's going to treat LGBT litigants in his courtroom fairly going forward. That's a really an important issue for me; I think that has to be resolved as well. In the meantime, I hope he changes his mind and does the right thing."
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken says although he has worked with and respects Judge McConnell personally, his actions could diminish work that the city and county have done for the LGBT community during the last 15 years.
"He's paid to do his job and his job is to be in that duty courtroom, as every other municipal judge is, and legally uphold the oath of his office, which is to marry those people that have a right to be married in this town and have a valid license. He needs to do that. Maybe this was a one-time thing, there's a lot going on around this, but Judge McConnell, this county respects you, the city respects you. You need to do the right thing." said Gerken.
Komives hopes that other groups will stand behind Equality Toledo on this issue.
"We're frankly really upset and discouraged and speaking on behalf of the LGBT community I can say that everybody is feeling a bit nervous. Because if they go in front of Judge McConnell for anything at this point, he has now proven that he's not going to treat LGBT people fairly, and that he will use his personal bias to influence the ruling that he comes out with. And frankly, if he's going to do that, then maybe he should consider resigning," said Komives.
The ACLU has issued the following statement on the issue:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio believes that same-sex couples and their families have waited long enough for the opportunity to marry across the nation. Now with the U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality settled in Obergefell v. Hodges, any barrier standing in the way of these families cementing their relationships by being legally married is standing on the wrong side of history.
"We urge the Ohio Supreme Court to agree to issue an advisory opinion stating that municipal court judges in all 88 of Ohio's counties must comply with their constitutionally required responsibilities, including Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell," said Mike Brickner, ACLU of Ohio senior policy director. "Public servants like Judge McConnell have an obligation to families who wish to marry in their courtrooms, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The highest Court in the land decreed that people have a right to marry who they love, and judges have taken an oath to uphold those laws."
Carolyn Wilson and her partner, who live in Toledo, should not have been held up any longer than it took to have an on-duty judge perform a mandated responsibility. The bailiff for the on-duty judge told the couple that Judge McConnell didn't perform "these types of marriages," according to an article today in The Toledo Blade. This is a direct affront to the families like this couple that have waited years for the simple right to be recognized equally under the law in marriage.
"It is our expectation that judges treat everyone fairly and uphold our laws," Brickner said. "While we respect that judges have deeply held personal and religious beliefs, they should not interfere with the oath they took to uphold our Constitution. No judge has a right to deny a consenting adult couple the right to commit to their loving relationship through marriage."
Calls to Municipal Court Presiding Judge Michelle A. Wagner and Judge McConnell have not yet been returned.