Wyoming Judge Censured For Views On Same-Sex Marriage

State high court allowed Judge Ruth Neely to keep her job but ordered her to officiate all marriages.

Justice Kate Fox, writing for the majority, insisted “Neely’s religious beliefs are not an issue.” Instead, the court ruled Neely’s remarks about homosexuality and same-sex marriage violated judicial standards of conduct and jeopardized the reputation of the Wyoming judiciary. But dissenting justices argued the majority opinion legislates from the bench and forces Neely and like-minded jurists to divorce their faith from their role as judge.

 

(WNS)–The Wyoming Supreme Court censured county magistrate Judge Ruth Neely this week for telling a newspaper reporter in 2014 she would not be able to conduct same-sex marriages. In its 3-2 decision, the court also ordered Neely to perform marriages “regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation.”

Justice Kate Fox, writing for the majority, insisted “Neely’s religious beliefs are not an issue.” Instead, the court ruled Neely’s remarks about homosexuality and same-sex marriage violated judicial standards of conduct and jeopardized the reputation of the Wyoming judiciary. But dissenting justices argued the majority opinion legislates from the bench and forces Neely and like-minded jurists to divorce their faith from their role as judge.

“Contrary to the position asserted by the majority opinion, this case is about religious beliefs and same sex marriage. The issues considered here determine whether there is a religious test for who may serve as a judge in Wyoming,” wrote Justice Keith Krautz in a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Michael Davis.

Despite approving the censure, the court voted against removing Neely from office and forbidding her from sitting on the bench again, the outcome recommended by the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct. Neely has served as a municipal court judge for Pinedale, Wyo., for 20 years and as a part-time county magistrate since 2001. Only as a magistrate is she authorized to officiate weddings.

In December 2014, weeks after a federal court judge overturned Wyoming’s statute defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, a local reporter asked Neely if she was “excited” to perform same-sex weddings. Neely said her Biblical convictions about marriage and homosexuality precluded her from officiating such ceremonies. But she said she would help a gay couple find a judge who would accommodate them.

“Judge Neely’s refusal to conduct same-sex marriages, and her indication that her religious beliefs would override the rule of law undermines public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” Fox wrote.

Kautz called that an “overreach” and wrote in his dissenting opinion the majority went too far by applying subjective standards of impropriety and impartiality to vaguely written statutes concerning judicial conduct. By ruling that no judge can refuse to perform a same-sex wedding as a matter of conscience, Krautz said the majority opinion essentially re-wrote state law.

In their dissent from the majority opinion, Krautz and Davis cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide: “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”

Neely’s hometown supporters include her pastor, fellow members of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, a lesbian couple, and the mayor and town council. The latter submitted an amicus brief on Neely’s behalf, one of only two from several submitted that the court chose to enter into the record.

Krautz noted the backing Neely had at home.

“Caring, competent, respected, and impartial individuals like Judge Neely should not be excluded from full participation in the judiciary,” he concluded in his dissent. “Judge Neely’s friends who actually obtained a same-sex marriage recognized this and observed that it is ‘obscene’ to impose discipline in this case.”

Neely and her lawyers with Alliance Defending Freedom have 90 days to decide whether to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

© 2017 World News Service. Used with permission.

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