Brownback opposes judge’s attendance at same-sex marriage ceremony

Senator's resistance puts district court nominee's status in limbo

? A Michigan judge whose nomination to the federal bench is stalled over her appearance at a lesbian commitment ceremony says she attended as a friend, not to give legal sanction.

The nomination of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet T. Neff to be a U.S. District Court judge is on hold because Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., is not satisfied with her response to questions about her views on same-sex marriage, a spokesman for the senator said Thursday.

Neff’s status has been in limbo since last month, when Brownback placed his procedural hold – using a technique that allows a lone senator to stall a nomination. Brownback wanted to know whether there was anything illegal or improper about the 2002 ceremony in Massachusetts and how Neff’s actions might shape her judicial philosophy.

In an Oct. 12 letter to Brownback that was released by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Neff said a minister presided over the ceremony and she insisted her attendance would not affect her ability to act fairly as a federal judge.

“The ceremony, which was entirely private, took place in Massachusetts, where I had no authority to act in any official capacity and where, in any event, the ceremony had no legal effect,” Neff wrote.

She said her family had lived next door to one of the women, Mary Curtin, for more than two decades and considers Curtin part of the extended family.

“When Mary and her partner, Karen Adelman, asked me to participate in their commitment ceremony by delivering a homily, it was not different from being asked by my own daughters to be part of an important event in their lives,” Neff wrote.

Neff declined to answer Brownback’s questions on whether the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage or civil unions, saying it would be improper to address questions that might come before her as a federal judge.

“She did not really address the judicial philosophy questions to his satisfaction,” Brownback spokesman Brian Hart said. He would not say what Brownback planned to do next.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has declined Brownback’s request to bring Neff back for a second hearing, a committee spokeswoman said Thursday. The committee has approved Neff’s nomination, which is pending before the full Senate.

Brownback, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, has traveled to Michigan and other states this year while he considers a presidential bid in 2008.

Commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples usually are symbolic and carry no legal rights. Massachusetts did not recognize gay marriages in 2002 but legalized same-sex marriage two years later after a ruling from its highest court.

President Bush nominated Neff and two others to fill three vacancies in Michigan as part of a compromise this year with Michigan Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. Neff has a liberal reputation, while the other nominees are considered conservatives.