Lesbian Judges Can’t Rule on Gay Marriage?
Anti-marriage equality groups fighting a case in which several couples have challenged Illinois’ ban on same-sex marriage say that the presiding judge, Judge Sophia Hall, should recuse herself because she is a lesbian.
Professor Rena Lindevaldsen, associate dean at the Liberty University School of Law, said Hall represented a conflict of interest.
“Judge Hall is presiding over a case that seeks to fundamentally alter the meaning of marriage in Illinois,” Lindevaldsen said. “As a Charter Member of the Alliance of Illinois Judges, which is an organization dedicated to LGBT causes, she has an obvious conflict of interest. Pursuant to the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge must disqualify herself in any case where her ‘impartiality might reasonably be questioned.’ (Rule 63-Cannon 3). If the tables were turned and she was a charter member of an organization that had as its mission to overturn Roe v. Wade and she was presiding over a case where the validity of Roe was in question, there would be incredible outcry to have her removed from the case. Given the significance of the case before her, Judge Hall should take steps to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest, and recuse herself.”
Hall, of the Cook County Circuit Court, is indeed a member of the Alliance of Illinois Judges, but the aim of the group is not to blanket promote LGBT causes, but rather to “promote and encourage respect and unbiased treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals as they relate to the judiciary, the legal profession and the administration of justice.”
Hall’s part in the group would appear entirely germane to her profession and would not prevent her from considering the case on its merits. Indeed, supporters have praised her in the past for her even and careful deliberation. Therefore, one must question whether it is Hall’s affiliation with the group or in fact her sexuality to which Liberty University School of Law is objecting.
In a case related to the Proposition 8 trial, a federal judge ruled that to vacate a ruling based on the presiding judge’s being gay would set a new and dangerous standard, and demand a level of disclosure from the judiciary that had not been seen before. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling. With this in mind, the Liberty University School of Law would seem to be setting an entirely unreasonable standard when they demand that a judge “should take steps to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest,” especially when one reads that they are a law school ”committed to academic and professional excellence in the context of the Christian intellectual tradition” but have not called for any Christian judges to recuse themselves in cases like this.
Illinois faces two, now combined, lawsuits challenging the state’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, they are: Lazaro and Matos v. Orr, which represents nine same-sex couples, and Darby v. Orr, which represents 16 gay and lesbian couples.
Illinois’ Attorney General’s office, alongside the Cook County office, has conceded the state’s ban on gay marriage is unlawful when squared with the Illinois constitution’s explicit demands for equality. As such, both have refused to defend the law in court.
Judge Hall however granted two county clerks the chance to intervene in the case and put forward a defense of the gay marriage ban.