Metro Weekly

Kentucky judge who refused to hear same-sex adoption cases resigns

Judge W. Mitchell Nance indicated that he could not be impartial in cases involving LGBTQ parents

Barren County Courthouse – Photo: Bedford, via Wikimedia.

A family court judge in Kentucky who tried to recuse himself from hearing cases involving LGBTQ couples has tendered his resignation.

Judge W. Mitchell Nance, who serves Barren and Metcalfe counties as a Family Court judge within the 43rd Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky, came under fire back in May after he said he would refuse to hear adoption cases involving “homosexual parties.”

Nance tried to justify recusing himself from those types of cases, claiming that his personal religious beliefs dictate that “under no circumstance” would a child’s best interest be served by having a parent who is a “practicing homosexual.” As a result of those beliefs, he argued, he should recuse himself because he would not be able to preside over cases without being influenced by his personal bias or prejudices — something judges are asked to do if they feel they cannot remain objective.

Soon after, pro-equality advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Kentucky, Lambda Legal, Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign and University of Louisville Law Professor Sam Marcosson, filed a complaint against Nance for violating Kentucky’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

“All citizens of Kentucky have the right to fair treatment before the judiciary,” Currey Cook, counsel and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “LGBTQ people who seek to provide adoptive homes for children who need them, and all other LGBTQ Kentuckians, now have clarity that anti-LGBT bias from the bench will not be tolerated in their state.”

In their joint complaint, the pro-equality groups said that Nance’s order that lawyers notify him of parties’ sexual orientation so he could recuse himself “eroded the public’s confidence” in the court and demonstrated a bias that placed a burden on LGBTQ parents that is not placed on other adoptive parents. As a result, they argued, Nance should be forcibly removed from office if he refused to step down of his own accord.

“Judge Nance must have seen the writing on the wall,” Chris Hartman, the director of the Fairness Campaign, said in a statement. “He had proven he could not deliver the basic impartiality required by his office when it came to LGBTQ people and their families. Judge Nance’s only possible pathways forward at that point were resignation or removal from office — either is a victory for social justice and LGBTQ civil rights.”

“Judges, more than anyone else, have a responsibility to follow the law,” Marcosson added. “By making it clear that he could not, or would not do that, Judge Nance demonstrated that he simply had no place on the bench. Kentucky’s justice system, and all who come before it, are better off in light of his resignation.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com