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Judge defends attendance at '02 lesbian rite

WASHINGTON -- A judge whose nomination to the federal bench is stalled over her appearance at a lesbian commitment ceremony in Massachusetts 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 US District judge is on hold because Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, is not satisfied with her response to questions about her views on same-sex marriage, a spokesman for the senator said yesterday.

Neff's status has been in limbo since last month, when Brownback used 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 and how Neff's actions might shape her judicial views .

In an Oct. 12 letter to Brownback, released yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, 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. Massachusetts did not legalize same-sex marriage until 2004.

Neff said her family had lived next door to one of the women for more than two decades.

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