By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
How states respond to government officials who won't perform same-sex weddings
A Wyoming judge could get removed from office for refusing, on religious grounds, to take part in gay and lesbian weddings. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
After same-sex marriage was legalized in June 2015, state lawmakers across the country have had to decide what to do with government officials and employees who refuse to participate in same-sex ceremonies on religious grounds.

The Wyoming Supreme Court will consider this month whether or not to remove Judge Ruth Neely from her post in Pinedale, Wyoming, where she has served as a town magistrate for more than 20 years. The Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics recommended that she be removed from office after Neely told a reporter in 2014 that "she would not perform same-sex marriages because of her religious beliefs," the Associated Press reported.

Current and former Wyoming lawmakers, as well as national faith groups like the National Black Church Initiative, have spoken out in support of Neely, arguing that the Wyoming and federal constitutions protect people whose religious convictions lead them to reject same-sex marriage, the article noted.

Neely's attorneys argue that the commission didn't think through the implications of its recommendation, the AP reported.

"By the commission's logic, jurists like Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., of the United States Supreme Court could not sit on the bench in Wyoming," they said in a response to the removal petition. "Not only have they written opinions explaining their view that the U.S. Constitution does not include a right to same-sex marriage, but also they (like Judge Neely) ascribe to a religious tradition that precludes them from celebrating a same-sex marriage."

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has also filed an amicus brief in support of Neely, noting that it's absurd for her to be punished for her religious beliefs, given the many excuses officials are allowed to use to get out of performing weddings.

"Many local officials in Pinedale can solemnize weddings, but are not required to do so. Judges like Judge Neely can decline to perform weddings for many reasons, such as a desire to marry only friends and family, to avoid conflicts with fishing, football games, or hair appointments, or even simply because they 'don't feel like it,'" according to a Becket Fund press release.

The law firm said the Wyoming commission's decision violated the state and federal constitutions' guaranteed rights to individual religious expression.

Legal backlash related to when government officials have a right to refuse to participate in same-sex weddings began soon after the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Kim Davis, a Rowan County clerk in Kentucky, received national attention last summer after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Even before the Supreme Court's ruling, some states took action to ensure that government officials would be exempt from performing wedding ceremonies that conflicted with their religious beliefs. For example, Utah passed a bill in March 2015 that allows "county clerks to opt out of solemnizing same-sex marriages for religious reasons as long as they provide a person inside or outside the office during business hours to perform the ceremony," the Deseret News reported.

Since then, many states have followed in Utah's footsteps. Alaska, Indiana, Iowa and other states have considered bills that would allow government officials to excuse themselves from participating in same-sex weddings.
Sign up for our E-Newsletters