On Wednesday, August 17, the Wyoming Supreme Court heard a case that has huge implications for each and every one of us.
The case involves Judge Ruth Neely, who has served with distinction for twenty-one years as the municipal judge in Pinedale, Wyoming. Since municipalities have no authority either to issue a license or solemnize a marriage, you would think that she’s unaffected by all the hoopla over same-sex marriage. But you would be mistaken. Because of her beliefs about marriage, the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics (CJCE) wants to remove her from her job and disqualify her for service anywhere in the Wyoming judiciary.
The story began on a cold Saturday morning in December 2014. Shortly after the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals declared Wyoming marriage statutes unconstitutional, a reporter from the Sublette Examiner called Judge Neely to ask if she was “excited” to perform same-sex marriages. It was only because she had accepted a part-time job as a circuit court magistrate that this question had any relevance at all. In that unpaid position, she was authorized, but not obligated, to solemnize marriages. She gave a perfectly reasonable reply. She said that if she were ever asked, she would help the couple find someone to do the job. However, she would “not be able to do” it herself.
Based on this solitary exchange about a hypothetical scenario, the commission has been waging what they call a “holy war” against her for more than a year. They are not content to send her a letter clarifying what she should have done, nor even a letter of reprimand. Instead, they are leveling the greatest possible punishment allowable by law””and the implications of their arguments are chilling.