CHEYENNE, Wy. — The Wyoming Supreme Court heard oral argument on Wednesday surrounding a local judge who is under fire for making comment to the media two years ago that, as a Christian, she couldn’t officiate same-sex unions.
As previously reported, 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.
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.
Neely also wrote in a letter to the state’s judicial ethics advisory committee, “Homosexuality is a named sin in the Bible, as are drunkenness, thievery, lying, and the like. I can no more officiate at a same-sex wedding than I can buy beer for the alcoholic.”
Therefore, the Commission recommended to the Wyoming Supreme Court that Neely be removed from office.
On Wednesday, the court heard argument over the matter, as Neely’s attorney asserted that the state “has adopted an extreme position.”
“It claims that because Judge Neely’s religious beliefs prevent her from solemnizing same-sex marriage, she cannot be a judge in Wyoming, even in a position that does not have authority to perform marriages,” James Campbell with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) told the panel.
According to the Associated Press, Patrick Dixon, an attorney for the Commission, said that while Neely has a right to her private beliefs, her statements violate the judicial code of conduct because they demonstrate a bias against homosexuals.
Dixon stated that Neely’s case marks a “a low point and a black mark in the history of the judiciary in Wyoming.”
The court is expected to issue a written decision in the coming weeks. Neely is still serving as Pinedale town judge, but has been suspended from her position as magistrate.