When a case testing whether Oregon should allow same-sex marriages came before the state's Supreme Court in 2004, one of the court's seven justices quietly wrestled with a vexing question:
Should he, a gay man, take part in the case? Or did part of Rives Kistler's identity — his sexual orientation — mean that he should sit it out, to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest?
Kistler, a former Oregon assistant attorney general and the first openly gay member of the state's highest court, consulted an ethics book to decide "whether it was permissible for me to sit on the case." Then he checked with a judicial ethics panel, which told him it would not be a conflict.
When Oregon's high court heard the dispute, Kistler was on the bench. Four months later, he joined a unanimous decision as the court ruled that same-sex marriages were not allowed under Oregon law. He says his sexual orientation wasn't a factor in his decision, and he agreed with the other justices that any changes in Oregon's marriage laws had to come from legislators, not judges.