Kentucky’s Judicial Conduct Commission this week reprimanded a judge who made headlines earlier this year for refusing to hear adoption cases involving LGBTQ parents.
Back in October, Family Court Judge W. Mitchell Nance, 66, submitted his intent to retire on Dec. 16 – the day after the commission held the hearing to consider whether Nance had violated judicial ethics by refusing to hear the cases, according to The Richmond Register.
On Tuesday, Commission Chairman Stephen D. Wolnitzek issued an order indicating that “[D]ue to (Nance’s) retirement, a public reprimand is warranted, and is the only public sanction available.”
All of this began in the spring when Nance issued an order that attorneys were to let him know in advance if an adoption case involved same-sex parents so that he could recuse himself and assign the case to another judge because he had a religious objection to placing children in need of homes with same-sex parents.
In his order, he wrote that “under no circumstance” is the adoption of a child by a gay couple “in the best interest of the child.”
As AU Legal Fellow Kelly Percival has noted, Kentucky law is clear that LGBTQ couples can adopt children – and government officials must do their jobs and uphold the law fairly for all citizens. Religious freedom is about fairness; it’s clearly not fair to treat same-sex couples differently than opposite-sex couples.
Judges and other government officials can't use religion as an excuse to discriminate and treat some people like second-class citizens.
But some government officials keep trying to use their religious beliefs to justify discrimination. Elsewhere in Kentucky, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis became a Religious Right martyr after she was briefly jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses due to her objection to marriage equality. A federal judge recently ruled Kentucky taxpayers are on the hook for nearly a quarter-million dollars in legal fees owed to the couples who sued her after they were denied marriage licenses. (One of the plaintiffs has announced he’ll challenge Davis for her seat in next year’s election.)
Following a lawsuit brought by AU and our allies on behalf of a same-sex couple, Gilmer County in West Virginia apologized earlier this year because county clerks there had harassed two women who sought a marriage license. In Wyoming, a judge was censured after she refused to marry same-sex couples; she’s asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review her case.
Sadly, the problem isn’t limited to just a few rogue clerks and judges using religion as an excuse to discriminate. Some states have attempted to write this type of discrimination into their laws. In the last year, Alabama, South Dakota and Texas have enacted laws that would allow taxpayer-funded child-welfare agencies to use religious beliefs as an excuse to deny services to LGBTQ children and to refuse to place children into LGBTQ homes. Michigan and North Dakota have similar laws, which currently are the subject of lawsuits.
Getting married and welcoming children into a family are supposed to be some of the happiest moments of our lives. No one should face discrimination when they’re trying to fulfill these dreams – especially at the hands of government officials or taxpayer-funded agencies. Religious freedom means we have the right to believe, or not, as we see fit, but it does not give us the right to discriminate against or harm others.
AU fights attempts to use religion as an excuse to discriminate. Learn more at our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign.