An Iowa judge who authorized the dissolution of a lesbian couple's Vermont civil union last year is defending himself against accusations that he is promoting a gay agenda by giving official recognition to the couple's partnership. "It hurts--you've got to hear it from me, because it hurts," Judge Jeffrey Neary told a group in Orange City on Monday. "I've been painted with an awfully broad brush."
The Iowa Family Policy Center, a conservative family advocacy group, has launched a campaign to have the district judge from northwest Iowa voted off the bench. The group has accused Neary of promoting same-sex marriage. Last November, Neary granted a divorce to Kimberly Jean Brown and Jennifer Sue Perez. He later amended his ruling, declaring that instead the couple's civil union was terminated.
Lawyers for the Iowa Family Policy Center filed an appeal with the Iowa supreme court claiming Neary had overstepped his authority in recognizing the couple's union. Iowa law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The group said a divorce can't be granted to two women. Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, said Neary launched a "nuclear missile at the nuclear family" with his ruling. But Neary said his action was simply an attempt to resolve an issue between two parties, not to recognize same-sex marriage.
Lawyers have rushed to Neary's defense. He won a 93% approval rating for a six-year term in the Iowa State Bar Association's election-year poll of its members--among the higher approval ratings of the 74 Iowa judges up for retention in the general election. He earned unanimous support from the Sioux County Bar Association.
On Monday a group with members from each of the six counties in the judicial district in which Neary serves also came to his defense. Afterward Neary agreed to meet with his opponents, telling them he feels the campaign has become personal. "You don't know me well enough to know my heart," Neary said. "Do you think I'd be here if I had an agenda?"
Hurley said Neary's ruling could have broad implications on the future acknowledgment of same-sex marriage in Iowa and the nation. Neary told the group his decision would not set a precedent by itself, but the supreme court's ruling on the group's appeal is likely to do that. Neary, appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2002, faces his first retention vote November 2 for a six-year term. Only four Iowa judges have been removed from the bench since the retention system was adopted more than 40 years ago.