CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A conservative law firm that has worked to oppose gay marriage initiatives nationwide is representing a Wyoming magistrate under investigation for saying she would refuse to perform same-sex marriages.
Municipal Judge and Circuit Court Magistrate Ruth Neely of Pinedale faces an upcoming hearing before the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics. The commission is probing statements Neely made to the press that she would not perform same-sex marriages because of her religious beliefs.
Lawyers with the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona religious advocacy law firm, are representing Neely.
“Removing a respected public servant from office because of her religious beliefs is a violation of both the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions,” ADF lawyer Ken Connelly said Thursday.
“Merely stating a view about marriage that was the law across the country and in Wyoming until recently should not result in a government investigation and possible removal from office,” Connelly said. “All Americans — regardless of political affiliation or religious belief — should be alarmed by this.”
The ADF, which was founded by conservative religious organizations, has opposed gay marriage initiatives while defending business owners such as florists who have been sued for refusing to providing services to same-sex wedding ceremonies.
The Sublette Examiner published a story in December quoting Neely as saying she would not marry gay couples because of her religious beliefs. She said there was at least one other magistrate in the area who could marry gay couples if necessary.
“When law and religion conflict, choices have to be made,” Neely was quoted as saying.
The story came less than three months after a federal judge in Casper struck down Wyoming’s gay marriage ban last year. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that same-sex couples have a right to marry.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Neely said she has never been asked to perform a same-sex marriage and declined further comment.
Wendy J. Soto, executive director of the Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics, issued a statement last week saying the commission had started an investigation as a result of the article. According to the statement, the commission served Neely in March with notice that it was commencing formal proceedings against her on six allegations of violation of the rules of judicial conduct.
Soto this week declined to provide copies of the notice of violation sent to Neely or her response to it. Soto declined to say when the commission hearing will occur.
Despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer upholding same-sex marriage, conflicts continue to arise over whether public officials may assert a personal, religious objection to issuing licenses.
In Kentucky, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ office on Thursday continued to turn away same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses despite federal court orders to issue them. She has claimed her Christian faith and constitutional right to religious freedom should exempt her from having to license unions she finds morally objectionable.
Jason Marsden is executive director of the Denver-based Matthew Shepard Foundation and a former Wyoming resident. The foundation is named after the University of Wyoming student who was beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead in 1998. His murder became a rallying cry in the gay rights movement and a federal hate crimes law now bears his name.
Marsden said Thursday that public officials and businesses have not been successful in claiming that they have a right not to provide services to gays and lesbians that they would provide to other citizens.
“These people are using the judicial system, which is their right,” Marsden said. “They’re going to find out from the judicial system that doing their job for gay and lesbian customers and citizens is their responsibility. And they will ultimately be forced to do it, or face the legal consequences of their choices.”