February 2018 Church & State - February 2018

Ky. Judge Reprimanded For Refusing To Hear LGBTQ Adoption Cases

  Liz Hayes

A Kentucky judge who’d refused to hear adoption cases involving LGBTQ parents was reprimanded in December, just days after he’d retired.

Kentucky’s Judicial Conduct Commission on Dec. 19 found Family Court Judge W. Mitchell Nance guilty of misconduct because he’d issued an order last spring that attorneys were to let him know in advance if an adoption case involved same-sex parents. If so, he planned to 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.”

The commission, which investigates complaints of judicial misconduct and wrongdoing, charged Nance in September with multiple violations of judicial ethics rules, including those banning bias or prejudice based on sexual orientation, according to the Courier-Journal in Louisville.

In October, Nance, 66, submitted his intent to retire on Dec. 16 – the day after the commission’s ethics hearing, which he didn’t attend.

Three days later, Commission Chair­man Stephen D. Wolnitzek issued an order indicating that because Nance had retired, “a public reprimand is warranted, and is the only public sanction available.”

The reprimand noted that Kentucky’s code of judicial conduct requires judges to “fairly and impartially decide cases according to the law.” It requires judges to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and prohibits prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, among others.

AU Legal Fellow Kelly Percival, writing about the case on the blog of AU’s Protect Thy Neighbor campaign, compared Nance’s refusal to that of county clerks who harass or refuse to serve same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses.

“Religion can never be an excuse for government officials to refuse to do their job because of who the person seeking services is,” Percival wrote. “Getting married and welcoming children into your family are supposed to be some of the happiest moments of your life. These are life events worth celebrating, and should not be filled with fear and shame because government officials won’t treat you with respect.”

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