The nomination of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet Neff to the federal bench is on hold because she helped lead a commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple four years ago, reports the Grand Rapids Press.

Senator Sam Brownback, of Kansas, an opponent of gay marriage who has presidential aspirations, said he wants to know whether there was anything illegal or improper about the ceremony in Massachusetts.

“It seems to speak about her view of judicial activism,” Brownback said. “That’s something I want to inquire of her further.”

The Associated Press reports that conservative activists expressed concerns about Neff after seeing her name in a September 2002 New York Times “Weddings/Celebrations” announcement. It said Neff and a minister led the commitment ceremony for Karen Adelman and Mary Curtin.

The Senate Judiciary Committee last week approved Neff for a seat on the US District Court in Michigan’s Western District; the nomination is pending before the Senate. A single senator can block a nomination by placing it on hold.

Senator Carl Levin told the AP that based on the newspaper announcement it didn’t sound like Neff did anything illegal.

“There’s no reason why two people can’t stand up and exchange commitments with each other provided they don’t do anything illegal,” Levin said to the AP.

Brownback cited recent instances in California and New York where local officials issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples contrary to existing laws.

“I don’t know what she did,” Brownback said to the AP. “That’s why there’s a factual question.”

Gay activists call Brownback’s inquiry a publicity stunt that is irrelevant to Neff’s qualifications.

“This has got nothing to do with legal or ethical concerns by Sam Brownback and everything to do with him finding another opportunity to show himself to be the mean-spirited bigot that he is,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

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