Thursday May 19, 2016
During her years as a Magistrate Judge in Pinedale, Wyoming, Ruth Neely performed dozens of civil marriage ceremonies. State law (Sect. 20-1-106[a]) specifies that magistrates, like “every licensed or ordained minister of the gospel, bishop, priest, or rabbi … may perform the ceremony of marriage in this state.”
Presiding at a civil wedding is a discretionary function of the magistrate’s office, not a mandatory duty. Neely had an unqualified right to decline a request to preside at a wedding, for any reason that suited her.
Prior to December 2014, she had never performed a same-sex wedding ceremony, because they were not recognized by the State of Wyoming. Shortly before Christmas that year, Neely was interviewed by a newspaper reporter named Ned Donovan, who asked her if she was “excited” to begin officiating at same-sex wedding ceremonies.
A few weeks earlier, the US District Court in Wyoming had issued a ruling prohibiting state officials “from enforcing or applying” Wyoming’s existing marriage statute. Neely had made formal inquiries about how this would affect her responsibilities and had been counseled to refrain from public comment on the matter until official guidance was given.