Metro Weekly

Advocates file complaint against Kentucky judge refusing adoptions to LGBTQ parents

Complaint asks Judicial Conduct Commission to remove Judge W. Mitchell Nance from the bench

Barren County Courthouse – Photo: Bedford, via Wikimedia.

A coalition of LGBTQ advocates has filed a complaint accusing Kentucky Judge W. Mitchell Nance of violating Kentucky’s Code of Judicial Conduct by recusing himself from any adoption proceedings involving lesbian, gay, or bisexual prospective parents.

Nance, who serves Barren and Metcalfe counties as a Family Court judge within the 43rd Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky, has justified his actions by citing a judicial ethics rule that says judges must disqualify themselves from cases in which they have a personal bias or prejudice.

But the coalition filing the complaint against nance, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Kentucky, Lambda Legal, Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign, and University of Louisville Law Professor Sam Marcosson, argue that, by recusing himself from any and all cases involving LGBTQ people, the judge has actually violated two different canons within Kentucky’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

In their complaint, the advocates ask that Nance be removed from office because he cannot be trusted to be impartial, thereby eroding confidence in the judiciary. They also accuse him of perpetuating a stereotype regarding LGBTQ individuals’ fitness to serve as parents, and of creating an obstacle that only LGBTQ prospective parents have to overcome in order to receive a fair and impartial trial.

“Judge Nance’s acknowledgment that he is incapable of being fair to certain individuals because of their sexual orientation and on the basis of a demonstrably false stereotype establishes that he is incapable of performing the essential duties of his office,” William Sharp, the legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said in a statement. “While he is certainly free to hold his discriminatory beliefs, the fact that they prevent him from fairly and impartially acting as a judge for all Kentuckians mandates that the Judicial Conduct Commission take swift action.”

Nance previously announced that he is refusing to hear adoption cases involving “homosexual parties” because 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.”

“Rather than displaying a fair and open mind in all adoption matters, Judge Nance blindly condemns gay and bisexual people and puts his discriminatory beliefs above the best interest of the child,” Currey Cook, counsel and director of Lambda Legal’s Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project, said in a statement. “Lambda Legal cannot and will not stand by while this judge ignores the best interests of children in favor of stereotypes that have been thoroughly debunked by well-established social science research.”

Chris Hartman, the director of the Fairness Campaign, says Nance’s prejudicial statements prove he cannot be impartial where LGBTQ prospective parents are involved.

“[Nance’s] inability to be impartial is a blight on his office and an insult to the 8,000-plus Kentucky children who need loving foster care and forever homes,” Hartman said in a statement. “The only ethical thing for Judge Nance to do is resign the bench, but since he refuses, the necessary next step is for the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission to remove him.”

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

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