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Senator defers nomination of Mich. judge over same-sex ceremony

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 New York Times ``Weddings/Celebrations" announcement.

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.

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