The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) joined with renowned constitutional law scholar Professor Ronald D. Rotunda and filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court today in support of a Wyoming state judge who said that her faith would not allow her to perform same-sex weddings.
Ruth Neely served as a municipal judge for more than 22 years and as a part-time circuit court magistrate for approximately 15 years. As a circuit court magistrate, she had the authority to solemnize marriages. Moreover, under Wyoming law, she had broad discretion to decline wedding requests for nearly any reason.
In December 2014, Judge Neely told an agenda-driven reporter that she believes marriage is the union of a man and a woman and that performing same-sex weddings would violate her religious beliefs. Judge Neely had never been asked to officiate a same-sex couple’s wedding, and she stated that if she were asked, she would refer the same-sex couple to a magistrate who would solemnize their marriage.
After the reporter published Judge Neely’s statements, the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics recommended that she be removed from her judgeships. Judge Neely appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court, arguing that punishing her for her comments would violate her First Amendment rights.
In March 2017, the state supreme court, in a 3-2 decision, publicly censured Judge Neely and gave her an ultimatum: Either perform same-sex weddings or stop performing all weddings. This month, attorneys from FCDF’s ally, Alliance Defending Freedom, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
In its brief, FCDF argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should reverse the Wyoming Supreme Court’s opinion sanctioning Judge Neely. As discussed in the brief, Wyoming cannot force Judge Neely to solemnize a same-sex wedding because, under state law, judges have wide discretion whether to participate in a wedding. In addition, Judge Neely’s beliefs would not discriminate against a same-sex couple because there are other judges available to officiate their wedding.
According to FCDF’s brief:
“No one is preventing the same-sex couple from marrying or securing a wedding license. Here, the judge is saying, ‘I choose not to participate in your wedding, but there are plenty of other judges or others who would be happy to help.’ This is a perfectly constitutional response.”
Charles LiMandri, FCDF’s President & Chief Counsel, commented:
“The fact that the public is aware of Judge Neely’s affirmation of traditional marriage should not give the government the power to punish her for her beliefs or force her to solemnize a same-sex marriage. By officiating a same-sex wedding, Judge Neely would actually be participating in the wedding, and doing so would violate her sincerely held religious beliefs and her freedom of conscience.”