PINEDALE, Wy. — A judicial commission in Wyoming is calling for the removal of a municipal and circuit court judge after she told the media in 2014 that she would not be able to officiate same-sex unions due to her faith.
According to reports, Ruth Neely told a reporter for the Sublette Examiner in 2014 after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex “marriage” that she personally could not take part in the officiation.
“I will not able to do them,” Neely stated. “We have at least one magistrate who will do same-sex marriages, but I will not be able to. … When law and religion conflict, choices have to be made.”
She made clear that her personal inability would not stop homosexuals from finding a local judge to officiate.
In January of last year, following a complaint from Democratic Party Chairwoman Ana Cuprill, the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics launched an investigation into Neely’s remarks.
It soon issued her a notice of that disciplinary proceedings would commence. Neely was accused of violating six rules of judicial conduct, including that she “manifested a bias” by her statement and therefore possessed prejudice in regard to so-called sexual orientation.
Neely, who has served as judge for over 20 years, has never been asked to officiate a same-sex ceremony. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, judges in Pinedale are not required to handle nuptials, but can if they desire.
“As the town judge, she does not perform marriages. That is not part of the description of the work of a town judge,” Mayor Bob Jones told the Sublette Examiner in 2014.
However, the Commission advised Neely during the disciplinary proceedings that if she admitted wrongdoing and resigned her position, and agreed to never again run for judicial office, it would drop the matter. She declined.
The Commission then asked Neely in February if she would issue a public apology for her statement and agree to officiate same-sex ceremonies. She replied that she could not because of her religious convictions.
Therefore, the Commission recommended to the Wyoming Supreme Court that Neely be removed from office.
Now, religious liberty groups and lawmakers in the state are expressing concern that the Commission is seeking that Neely “be banned for life from the judiciary and pay up to $40,000 in fines merely for stating that her faith prevents her from personally performing same-sex weddings.”
“By the commission’s logic, jurists like Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., of the United States Supreme Court could not sit on the bench in Wyoming,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing Neely in court, outlined in legal briefs. “Not only have they written opinions explaining their view that the U.S. Constitution does not include a right to same-sex marriage, but also they (like Judge Neely) ascribe to a religious tradition that precludes them from celebrating a same-sex marriage.”
ADF also points to the Wyoming Constitution to note that those who hold public office cannot be deemed incompetent or ineligible because of their religion.
“The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship without discrimination or preference shall be forever guaranteed in this state, and no person shall be rendered incompetent to hold any office of trust or profit, or to serve as a witness or juror because of his opinion on any matter of religious belief whatever,” Article 1, Section 18 reads. “But the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of the state.”
On Monday, dozens of current and former legislators filed a petition in support of Neely with the Wyoming Supreme Court.
“As a local LGBT couple who actually knows Judge Neely put it: Punishing Judge Neely for her religious beliefs would be ‘obscene and offensive,'” Becket Fund legal counsel Daniel Blomberg said in a statement. “They were right. In America, the government doesn’t get to punish people for their religious beliefs—especially not for beliefs that the U.S. Supreme Court itself, in the very opinion that recognized same-sex marriage, said were ‘decent and honorable’ and held ‘in good faith by reasonable and sincere people.'”