Board: Judges Can’t Use Freedom of Religion to Avoid Performing Same-Sex Marriages

AP Photo/J Pat Carter
AP Photo/J Pat Carter

The Ohio Supreme Court Board of Professional Conduct released a nonbinding, advisory ruling Monday that denies judges the right to cite their religious beliefs in refusing to marry same-sex couples.

Citing the judicial oath of office to “support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Ohio,” the opinion states, “A judge who is willing to perform marriages of only opposite-sex couples because of his or her personal, moral, or religious beliefs may be viewed as possessing a bias or prejudice against a specific class or group of people based on sexual orientation.”

Additionally, the board decided that judges who decide to deal with the restrictions on their religious freedom by refusing to perform all marriages would be interpreted as being biased. The board ruled that this practice could cause judges to be disqualified from any case in which sexual orientation is an issue.

“Even if a judge decides not to perform any marriages, but does so only after Obergefell, the judge may face the prospect of disqualification in matters where the sexual orientation of the parties is at issue,” the opinion said. “As such, a judge’s decision to decline to perform some or all marriage ceremonies, when grounded on the judge’s personal beliefs, may reflect adversely on perceptions regarding the judge’s performance of other judicial functions and duties.”

The ruling comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide, a decision that invalidated many state laws that recognized marriage solely between one man and one woman.

The board was asked to provide guidance based on a request by the Association of Municipal and County Judges of Ohio and several individual judges, including Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell who, according to, asked if he could refuse to perform same-sex marriages. McConnell opted not to marry a same-sex couple in July based on his personal and religious beliefs, and another judge married the couple instead.

“Public confidence in the independence of the judiciary is undermined when a judge allows his or her beliefs concerning the societal or religious acceptance or validity of same-sex marriage to affect the performance of a judicial function or duty,” the board said in its decision.

The board is led by chair Paul M. DeMarco, vice-chair William J. Novak, director Richard Dove, senior counsel D. Allan Asbury, and counsel Heidi Wagner Dorn.

Following the judicial board’s ruling, McConnell said he would comply with the decision and marry same-sex couples.


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