Judge refuses to hear same-sex adoption cases ‘as a matter of conscience’

Posted at 4:42 PM, May 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-01 16:42:57-04

Judge W. Mitchell Nance, who presides over family courts in two Kentucky counties. (PHOTO: Courtesy Glasgow Daily Times)

GLASGOW, Kent. — A family court judge in Kentucky is refusing to hear adoption cases involving gay parents “as a matter of conscience” because he believes such households would not serve the best interests of the child.

Judge W. Mitchell Nance filed an order recusing himself from any future adoption cases involving “a practicing homosexual.” He cited a judicial ethics rule that states a judge must disqualify himself when he has a personal bias or prejudice.

Kentucky state law permits gay couples to adopt children.

“The undersigned judge believes as a matter of conscience that (although adoption of a child by a practicing homosexual is not expressly prohibited by law) under no circumstance would ‘…the best interest of the child … be promoted by the adoption …’ by a practicing homosexual.”

A study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that children of same-sex parents are just as healthy emotionally and physically as the children of different-sex parents,

Drawing comparisons

Nance’s recusal drew swift condemnation from gay-rights organizations but support from conservative groups. He also drew comparisons to Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“He’s clearly looking for his Kim Davis legacy. He’s probably making the comparison himself,” said Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a Kentucky LGBT advocacy organization. “But as I’ve been saying, if he can’t do the job he shouldn’t have the job.”

Those in favor

The Family Foundation, a Kentucky group that promotes socially conservative values, spoke out in favor of 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,” said Martin Cothran, a spokesman for the group, “then, in the interest of fairness, we are going to have to allow judges with different views to at least recuse themselves from such cases.”

“When adoption agencies abandon the idea that it is in the best interest of a child to grow up with both a mother and father, people can’t expect judges who do believe that to be forced to bow the knee,” Cothran added. “Judges have a right of conscience like everyone else.”

The other judge

Nance is one of two judges in the family court for rural Barren and Metcalfe counties in south-central Kentucky. He became a judge in 2000 and was most recently reelected, without opposition, in 2014. His term expires on January 1, 2023.

A case manager who answered the phone at his offices said Monday that Nance would have no comment.

The judge’s stance may not delay any adoption cases in the two counties, however. Judge John T. Alexander, the other division judge in the circuit court with Nance, told the Glasgow, Kentucky, Daily Times that he’d take any adoption cases involving gay parents.