Lavender Leninists and Heretic-Hunters: The Thoughtcrime Prosecution of Ruth Neely

by | 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.

In dealing with Donovan, Neely acted in good faith, not aware that the reporter with whom she was speaking was actually playing the role of pursuivant – a heretic hunter working on behalf of the state and its allied “tolerance” industry. She explained that “When law and religion conflict, choices have to be made. I have not yet been asked to perform a same-sex marriage.”

After speaking with Neely, Donovan called Pinedale Mayor Bob Jones, who informed him that as a municipal judge, Neely had no authority to perform weddings – which obviously would mean that she had no legal responsibility to do so, either. Determined to shoehorn what he was told into a pre-conceived story, Donovan called Neely again and engaged in a species of blackmail: If she would “state a willingness to perform same-sex marriages,” he told the judge, he would refrain from publishing a story about her. Neely told Donovan that she had no further comment and ended the conversation.

Donovan’s contrived story was published under the deliberately misleading headline, “Pinedale judge will not perform same-sex marriages.” He filed a few more missives in a similar vein before moving on to different outlets. Since leaving Pinedale, according to an affidavit filed by the editor of the city paper, Donovan has waged a campaign for Judge Neely to be “sacked.”

In his initial story, Donovan claimed that “All judges are required to marry those who meet the legal requirements unless there is a scheduling conflict or some other problem. In those cases, prospective couples will be referred to other magistrates.” Nothing in Wyoming law dictates that a magistrate must perform a marriage ceremony for anybody.

The US District Court’s ruling striking down Wyoming’s ban on same-sex marriage did not alter the provision of Wyoming law recognizing that judges “may perform the ceremony of marriage”; accordingly, Neely would have been within her legal rights to say candidly that she would decline to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

It’s important to note that Neely merely acknowledged that under the new dispensation, what the Regime is calling the law would come into conflict with what the Supreme Court called “decent and honorable religious or philosophical” objections held and expressed “in good faith by reasonable and sincere people.”

Donovan’s pseudo-journalistic artifact was read by Ana Cuprill, Chair of the Wyoming Democratic Party. In the fashion of a dutiful stukach informing on a dissident in Stalinist Russia, Cuprill filed a complaint with the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics (CJCE). This was done at a Democratic Party Christmas gathering attended by Commission Chair Wendy Soto, whose guests included her “best friend,” Jeran Avery, President of the gay rights organization Wyoming Equality.

Prior to becoming Chair of the CJCE, and for a brief time after assuming that position, Soto –who is neither an attorney, nor a judge, but rather a paralegal — was a board member of Wyoming Equality and had been involved in litigation on behalf of the group.

Neely was suspended from her position and informed that an “Investigatory Panel” would inquire into allegations that she had committed offenses meriting removal from the bench.

Last August, following the most perfunctory imaginable inquiry, the CJCE ruled that Neely, by answering a hypothetical question in a fashion fully in harmony with the existing laws, and expressing a point of view the Supreme Court described as “decent and honorable” regarding a highly contentious social policy, had violated the state’s code of judicial conduct.

“A judge announcing her decision to pick and choose the law she wishes to follow undermines her position and our system of justice,” announced the CJCE, without substantiating that charge in any way. It is impossible, after all, to substantiate a lie: Nothing Neely said can honestly be construed as “announcing” her intent to ignore the law, and – as previously noted — the law as it exists in current statutes did not require Neely to perform any marriage ceremony. It also worth pointing out that after Neely was suspended, several gay and lesbian residents of Pinedale wrote affidavits describing her as a fair-minded and honorable public official. This availed her nothing, as far as the CJCE was concerned.

On February 26, the CJCE formally recommended that Neely is removed from her position. The Commission also seeks to impose a $40,000 fine as punishment for Neely’s expression of what it calls “repugnant” views regarding marriage. Once again, Neely was presented with an extortion demand: The CJCE offered to waive the fine if she were to resign and publicly recant her beliefs regarding marriage.

In its ruling, the CJCE sneers that Neely’s sincerely held beliefs regarding marriage are the kind of opinions that should be confined to “churches” and “coffee shops.” Not that we should assume that those private settings would be spared future legal scrutiny: Recall that the section of the Wyoming State code specifying that magistrates “may perform the ceremony of marriage in this state” also applies to “every licensed or ordained minister of the gospel, bishop, priest, or rabbi … [who] may perform the ceremony of marriage in this state….”

In an amicus brief filed on Neely’s behalf before the Wyoming State Supreme Court, attorney Doug Mason underscores the fact that the CJCE, which has no legislative authority, has effectively re-written the existing law to say that the listed officials who “may” perform weddings, henceforth shall perform them. This imperative, however, is not of general application: It apparently applies only to same-sex ceremonies. Magistrates would still be at liberty not to officiate ceremonies for people who don’t belong to that specially protected class.

Mason points out that “there are no penalties for non-judicial celebrants who refuse to participate in certain weddings, e.g. a Catholic priest who declines to wed a Muslim couple or a Catholic priest who [declines] to marry a gay couple. In each case, the Catholic priest is exercising the power of the state – the power to solemnize a wedding – but the law imposes no such restrictions on those official acts.”

The missing word in this otherwise correct observation is: “Yet.”

“Many religious traditions refuse to solemnize or bless same-sex relationships,” Mason continues, referring to the teachings of the Catholic and LDS churches, various Protestant denominations, as well as “Islamic Law [and] Orthodox Judaism.”

“The Commission is really saying that no judge who belongs to any of these religions is allowed to be a Wyoming judge,” Mason observes. The Commission is “creating a religious test for public office: no individual can remain a state judge if he or she believes that marriage is a joining of man and woman, a view, by the way, that four justices of the US Supreme Court embraced. Three of them are still on the Court and US Supreme Court justices can perform wedding ceremonies. Is the State of Wyoming stating that these three Justices should be impeached because they will not perform a gay wedding?”

There’s no reason to doubt that Commissarina Soto and her fellow Leninists believe that this would be an appropriate course of action. However, the “legal” principle the Commission pretends to have discovered is even more expansive: The standard demanded by the CJCEwould of necessity encompass an ideological test for religious officials who are authorized to perform marriage ceremonies.

Ruth Neely, unlike Kim Davis, was not actively impeding the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She was not declining to bake wedding cakes, or do floral arrangements, or act as a wedding photographer for same-sex wedding ceremonies – all of which are exercises of property rights that our rulers now consider to be unlawful. Her only overt “act” was to express her religious convictions and correctly observe that they are in tension with what the Judicial Branch now wants us to pretend is the “law.”

In doing so, she violated what the Lavender Leninists have styled the “right” to “affirmation” of same-sex unions – in the words of the California Supreme Court, “the right of [same-sex] couples to have their family relationship accorded respect and dignity equal to that accorded the family relationship of opposite-sex couples.”

Nobody can legitimately claim a property right to “approval,” “respect,” or “affirmation” from another. In a genuinely free society, marriages of all kinds would be private relationships solemnized through covenants, or formalized through contracts, by parties acting on the “choice of law” principle.

A non-statist marriage ceremony would be an invitation to the community to recognize and affirm the union. Separation of marriage and state is what people who understand individual liberty should pursue. The community can invite recognition of a union, but the Lavender Leninists are seeking to compel it – and doing so requires the coercive power of the state. At the time of the Stonewall uprising, and for years after, the refrain of the gay rights movement was: Keep the police out of our private behavior. In its late-Leninist phase, the movement now demands that the state uses its police power to punish those who withhold their approval of that private behavior.

Nobody has a legitimate property right in a tax-subsidized job, which is why the removal of Ruth Neely from her current position isn’t, in itself, an affront to liberty. The prosecution of Neely for heresy against the New Orthodoxy could be seen as an overture to the social order predicted by Robert Destro of The Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law:

“Dissenting individuals and culture-forming institutions would … be forced to make a Hobson’s choice – either provide symbolic affirmation of same-sex relationships or accept fines, penalties, or exclusion from full participation in the civic life of the community.”

Re-printed with permission from the Pro-Libertate blog via


  • William Norman Grigg

    William Norman Grigg was an American author of several books from a constitutionalist perspective. He was formerly a senior editor of The New American magazine, the official publication of the John Birch Society and Managing Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

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