Family Court Judge W. Mitchell Nance’s decision not to hear any cases involving adoption by “a practicing homosexual,” while an admirable recognition of his own prejudice, raises serious red flags about his ability to do his job fairly.
Nance wrote that “as a matter of conscience,” he believes adoption by a gay person will never be in “the best interest of the child.”
But what about every other case involving a person Nance believes to be gay?
The Kentucky Court of Justice explains, family courts are “involved in the most intimate and complex aspects of human nature and social relations,” including divorce, custody, domestic violence, neglect and abuse, and termination of parental rights. The idea is a family remains before one judge rather than bouncing from court to court depending upon the issue.
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What if a couple with children is divorcing because one party has come out of the closet, can that gay parent expect fair consideration? Take that example further: What if the straight parent becomes involved in an abusive relationship and the gay parent asks for full custody to remove his or her children from that damaging environment?
What if a child runs away because his parents, upon discovering he is gay, punished him and restricted his activities and access to friends?
Those defending Nance point out the other family court judge in his district, which serves Barren and Metcalfe counties, is willing to hear gay adoption cases.
But what about all these other intimate and complex cases, would Nance hand them off to the other judge, disrupting the intent of family court, or hear them with his prejudices intact?
Or would he slow-walk them, delaying resolution for stressed families while he struggled with his conscience?
That’s apparently what happened when a gay couple seeking to adopt a child they had been fostering came before him in 2004. Nance put off the case several times before finally stepping aside so another judge, who approved the adoption, could be appointed.
That couple, Dennis Curry and Jim Reed, fostered nine children, according to the Glasgow Daily Times. The kids were considered at-risk, had often lived in several homes and, in some cases, mental institutions and juvenile detention facilities. “They were the kids no other foster parents would take,” Curry told the Daily Times.
It is hard to understand how Nance’s conscience would find more ease in a child confined to a mental institution than a stable home. But, allowing that, why should he continue in his job when it conflicts with his conscience?
Fayette County’s Judge Tim Philpot, who called gay marriage, an “oxymoron,” like “jumbo shrimp,” still does his job. “My views ... have never stopped me from following the law and being fair to all people, including those who identify themselves as LGBT,” he wrote. Attorneys who have represented gay clients before Philpot supported his statement.
The integrity of our judicial system is based on the assurance that everyone is equal before the law, regardless of sexuality or other characteristics that distinguish individuals.
Nance cannot make that promise, something voters should remember if he seeks reelection in 2022.