Judge Incurs Sanctions for Wrong Answer to Question Whether She Would Perform Same-Sex Marriages

On March 7, the Supreme Court of Wyoming found that a municipal judge and part-time circuit court magistrate, Ruth Neely, violated Wyoming’s Code of Judicial Conduct (WCJC) when she told a reporter for a local newspaper that she would not perform same-sex marriages. The question was posed in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision and the Guzzo v. Mead decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming. Neely v. Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics, 2017 WL 900088; 2017 Wyo. LEXIS 26. The court described its decision as aligned with those of other state and federal courts which had considered the question of whether “a judge who will perform marriages only for opposite-sex couples violates the Code of Judicial Conduct.” The court, however, declined to remove Judge Neely from the bench, ordering instead that “Judge Neely shall either perform no marriage ceremonies or she shall perform marriage ceremonies regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation[.]” This was characterized as a public censure.

Neely, who is not a lawyer and has no formal legal training, was appointed as municipal judge for the town of Pinedale in 1994. In 2001, Neely was also made a part-time circuit court magistrate, in which capacity she is permitted, but not required, to perform marriages. Neely is a devout Christian who holds the “sincere belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”

For the full story, access the April 2017 issue of LGBT Law Notes.