Judge Ruth Neely, a municipal judge and part-time circuit court magistrate in Pinedale, Wyoming, has never been asked to preside over the marriage of a same-sex couple. Nonetheless, she announced that, based on her religious beliefs, she’d refuse to do so if asked. Last week the Wyoming Supreme Court formally reprimanded Judge Neely because she wouldn’t treat everyone the same way and apply the law fairly.
Here’s what the Wyoming Supreme Court said was at stake: “maintaining the public’s faith in an independent and impartial judiciary that conducts its judicial functions according to the rule of law, independent of outside influences, including religion, and without regard to whether a law is popular or unpopular.” But the fact is that the Supreme Court recognized marriage equality as the law of the land nearly two years ago, and public support for marriage equality is high.
It is incumbent upon Judge Neely to perform all the functions of her job, even the parts with which she doesn't agree. Government officials do not have the right to pick and choose who they will serve, including which couples they decide to marry. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally, and allowing government officials to refuse to serve certain couples is discrimination, plain and simple. That’s why the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that Judge Neely must decide whether to perform all marriage ceremonies for all couples — or cease performing marriage ceremonies at all.
This case was never about religious beliefs. Religious freedom protects Judge Neely’s right to believe, just like it protects everyone else’s right to believe or not believe. Religious freedom, though, does not give anyone the right use religion as an excuse to discriminate or refuse to serve others. The Wyoming Supreme Court got this right — equality and fairness demand no less.