WASHINGTON — A judge in Wyoming who was censured earlier this year for making a comment to the media three years ago that she couldn’t officiate same-sex unions as a Christian, and who consequently lost her position as magistrate, has appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This case presents an important free-exercise question,” the petition, filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of Judge Ruth Neely, reads. “Although the state has a system of individualized exemptions that permits magistrates to decline marriages for nearly any secular reason, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that Judge Neely could not refer same-sex-marriage requests (if she ever received any) to other magistrates for the religious reason she expressed.”
As previously reported, 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 2015, 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 last 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.
While the court did find Judge Ruth Neely’s words to be a violation of the Wyoming Code of Judicial Conduct, it did not believe that she had committed any acts worthy of removal.
“Judge Neely has not violated a clear procedural rule governing the performance of her legal duties. As a municipal court judge, she had no authority to perform marriages. As a part-time circuit court magistrate, she had the power to perform marriage ceremonies, but she was not required to do so. She has not violated the law in her daily life, and she has not violated a procedural rule of law,” wrote Justices James Burke, William Hill and Kate Fox.
However, they declared that going forward, Neely must either agree to perform all marital ceremonies or none at all. The court further said that the the circuit court judge who appointed her as a magistrate was to also decide whether Neely would be able to continue to serve in that capacity.
A week later, Neely lost her position as magistrate.
“The Wyoming Supreme Court demanded that Judge Neely either commit to performing same-sex weddings or stop performing all weddings—an ultimatum that drove her from her magistrate position,” ADF Senior Counsel Jim Campbell explained in a press release on Friday. “The court didn’t need to do that. If Judge Neely were ever asked to officiate a same-sex wedding, which has never happened and the court acknowledged was ‘not likely’ to occur, she would’ve quickly connected that couple to judges able to perform their wedding.”
“That is exactly what other judges do when they face secular conflicts, and there’s no reason why Judge Neely’s religious conflict should be treated worse,” he said.
ADF is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to at least hold the petition pending the upcoming Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling.