WASHINGTON -- A judge's elevation to the federal bench could be derailed because she helped preside over a commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple four years ago.
Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas has placed a hold on the nomination of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet T. Neff, saying her presence at the 2002 Massachusetts ceremony raises questions about her judicial philosophy.
``It seems to speak about her view of judicial activism," Brownback said yesterday. ``It's something I want to inquire of her further."
Brownback, a vehement opponent of gay marriage who has presidential ambitions, said he wants to know whether Neff might have presided over ``an illegal marriage ceremony" that skirted Massachusetts law. He has asked the Justice Department for a formal legal opinion on Neff's conduct.
Ceremonies marking the union of same-sex couples are usually symbolic events that carry no legal benefits and require no government approval. Massachusetts did not recognize gay marriages in 2002 but legalized same-sex marriage two years later after a ruling from its highest court.
Conservative activists expressed concerns about Neff after seeing her name in a September 2002
It said Neff led the commitment ceremony for Karen Adelman and Mary Curtin with the Rev. Kelly A. Gallagher, a minister of the United Church of Christ.
Both women are former employees of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign in Washington.
``When she did the commitment ceremony, she was doing it in her role as a judge, and that draws up a serious question," said Tom McClusky, a spokesman for the Family Research Council, a conservative group. ``She would be more sympathetic to an activist on the issue of homosexual marriage."
The Senate Judiciary Committee last week approved Neff for a seat on the US District Court in Michigan's Western District, and the nomination is pending before the full Senate.
A single senator can block a nomination from moving forward by placing a hold on it.
Neither Neff nor a White House spokesman returned calls seeking comment yesterday.