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Judge appeals to Supreme Court to challenge censure over her refusal to officiate gay weddings

(Wikimedia Commons/Daderot)Supreme Court building, Washington, DC, USA.

A Wyoming judge, who was censured in March for telling the media that she could not officiate same-sex weddings, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up her case.

In March, the Wyoming Supreme Court issued a public censure against Judge Ruth Neely and ordered her to stop solemnizing marriages. According to Christian News Network, Neely consequently lost her position as magistrate following the censure.

"This case presents an important free-exercise question," the petition, filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of Neely, reads.

"Although the state has a system of individualized exemptions that permits magistrates to decline marriages for nearly any secular reason, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that Judge Neely could not refer same-sex-marriage requests (if she ever received any) to other magistrates for the religious reason she expressed," it continued.

Neely, who served as a part-time circuit court magistrate in Sublette County for approximately 15 years, told a reporter for Sublette Examiner in 2014 that she personally could not officiate a same-sex wedding. Her comment came after a federal judge struck down Wyoming's ban on same-sex marriage.

"I will not able to do them," she said at the time. "We have at least one magistrate who will do same-sex marriages, but I will not be able to. ... When law and religion conflict, choices have to be made," she added.

The Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics conducted an investigation on Neely's remarks in January 2015, following a complaint from Democratic Party Chairwoman Ana Cuprill.

Neely has been accused of violating six rules of judicial conduct, including an allegation that she "manifested a bias" by her comments to the media and therefore possessed prejudice in regard to sexual orientation.

While Neely has served as a judge for over 20 years, she has never been asked to officiate a same-sex ceremony.

The commission offered to drop the matter is she admitted wrongdoing and resigned her position, but she declined.

In February, the commission asked Neely to issue a public apology for her remarks and agree to officiate same-sex ceremonies. When she refused, the commission then asked the Wyoming Supreme Court to remove her from office.

Although the high court found Neely's words to be a violation of the Wyoming Code of Judicial Conduct, it contended that she had not committed any acts worthy of removal. However, the justices declared in March that Neely must either agree to perform all marital ceremonies or none at all.

The court further noted that the circuit court judge who appointed Neely as a magistrate was to also decide whether she would be able to continue to serve in that capacity. Neely lost her position as magistrate the following week.

On Aug. 4, ADF attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Neely's case. The legal organization is asking the court to at least hold the petition pending the upcoming Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling.

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