Metro Weekly

Kentucky judge refuses to hear adoption cases involving LGBTQ parents

Fairness Campaign weighing action against judge, but believes there will be few repercussions

Barren County Courthouse – Photo: Bedford, via Wikimedia.

A family court judge in Kentucky has announced he will no longer hear adoption cases involving “homosexual parties” because he believes “as a matter of conscience” that “under no circumstance” would a child’s best interest be served by having a parent who is a “practicing homosexual,” reports the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Judge W. Mitchell Nance, who sits in Barren and Metcalfe counties, has justified his recusal by citing a judicial ethics rule that says that judges must disqualify themselves from cases in which they have a personal bias or prejudice.

Under the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality, same-sex couples seeking to adopt children cannot be banned from doing so. However, finding a judge willing to deal in good faith with LGBTQ prospective parents may prove challenging for people, particularly those who live in rural areas.

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s statewide LGBTQ organization, tells Metro Weekly that he has no idea what prompted Nance’s surprise announcement. Hartman says Nance could have been motivated by his conscience or by his desire for “15 minutes of Kim Davis fame,” a reference to a Kentucky clerk who made national headlines for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“I think this is an opportunity for him to earn media coverage and for folks who want to promote LGBT prejudice to become emboldened in pushing their cause, even on the taxpayer’s dime,” Hartman says.

Luckily for LGTBQ individuals, Judge John T. Alexander, the other judge serving Barren and Metcalfe counties, has agreed to pick up the slack from any cases in which Nance recuses himself. Still, Hartman notes, Nance’s statements opposing LGBTQ parents raise questions about his impartiality with respect to any LGBTQ individual who comes before his court.

“I’d love for him to resign, but I’m certain he won’t,” Hartman says of Nance. He notes that his organization is discussing its potential options with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, which may include a challenge or inquiry regarding whether Nance has violated judicial ethics. That said, he doesn’t expect Nance to be sanctioned severely, if at all, saying, at most, the judge could be reprimanded or censure, as was a Wyoming judge who refused to solemnize same-sex marriages.

“I doubt it will amount to a hill of beans,” Hartman says, adding that Nance is not up for re-election until 2022 — by which time the judge’s decision to recuse himself will likely be a distant memory.

Martin Cothran, an analyst for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, told the Courier-Journal that the organization “fully support[s]” Nance’s decision.

“If we are going to let liberal judges write their personal biases and prejudices into law, as we have done on issues of marriage and sexuality, then in the interest of fairness we are going to have to allow judges whose personal biases and prejudices are different to recuse themselves from such cases,” said Cothran.

Cathy Sakimura, the deputy and family law director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called Nance’s proclamation “deeply disturbing.”

“Every judge is required to apply the law and, in adoption cases, to base decisions on the best interest of the child,” Sakimura said in a statement. “Recusal is only appropriate when a judge has a personal stake or interest in a case — not as a tool for permitting a judge to opt out of doing his job based on personal bias or disapproval of an entire group of people. In addition, for a judge to openly admit such bias is shocking and undermines respect for the law and the rule of law. This is not how our legal system is supposed to operate.”

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

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