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Senator questions judge's role in lesbian wedding,

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Senator questions judge's role in lesbian wedding

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) -- Sen. Sam Brownback, who wants to champion social conservatives in the presidential race, said Tuesday he wants a Senate panel to re-question a judicial nominee who attended a same-sex union ceremony.

Brownback, a Kansas Republican, said he wants Michigan state judge Janet Neff to testify about her role in the 2002 Massachusetts ceremony, her legal views on same-sex unions and her ability to be impartial if called upon to rule on such cases.

Neff's nomination to a federal district court is among a dozen or so now stalled in the Senate, a logjam in part due to Brownback's questions about Neff's attendance at a lesbian commitment ceremony. The Senate Judiciary Committee has already approved her nomination.

Neff was traveling outside the country and could not immediately be reached for comment, said Chris Bockheim, her judicial assistant.

Earlier this month, Brownback, a prominent opponent of gay marriage who is exploring a presidential run in 2008, said he would lift the hold he put on Neff's nomination if the judge agreed to withdraw from ruling on any court case involving the legality of same sex unions.

In Iowa on Tuesday to meet with GOP activists, Brownback said he wants only a chance to question Neff about her role in the 2002 ceremony. Brownback also wants a recorded vote in the Senate.

"I am not opposed to her getting a vote," Brownback said before a lunch with potential donors and supporters in Davenport. "I would like her to come back through committee so she can testify what took place, factually ... her legal views on same-sex marriage and her ability and willingness to be impartial."

Neff has said she attended the commitment ceremony as a friend of one of the two women, a longtime neighbor.

She insisted in an October 12 letter to Brownback that the ceremony had no legal effect and would not influence her ability to act fairly as a federal judge.

Brownback also has been criticized for his proposal that Neff be required to recuse herself from gay marriage cases. Legal scholars said such a deal would infringe on the separation of the legislative and judicial branches of government.

But Brownback said it was simply a last resort to put her nomination forward.

"If we don't testify on her views on same-sex marriage legally, then the only way I can see fit to do this is to have her recuse herself from a class of cases," Brownback said. "Then others stepped in and said, 'You can't do that.' Well, that's the only option I had at that late hour."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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