Kentucky judge refused to handle adoptions by gay parents. Now, he’s quitting over charges.

W. Mitchell Nance
W. Mitchell Nance Glasgow Daily Times

A state panel that disciplines judges has filed ethics charges against a Kentucky judge who objected to handling adoption cases involving gay parents.

In a complaint released Thursday, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission alleged that Judge W. Mitchell Nance violated ethics rules and committed misconduct in office.

Nance issued an order in April requiring lawyers to notify him if they had an adoption case involving a gay parent or same-sex couple so he could recuse himself from the case.

Nance, family court judge for Barren and Metcalfe counties, said his religious convictions prevented him from handling such adoptions because adoption of a child by a “practicing homosexual” would never be in the child’s best interest.

Nance’s attorneys, Bryan H. Beauman and Scott L. Miller of Lexington, said in a response to the charges that Nance has submitted his resignation effective Dec. 16, so the complaint is moot.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said Nance’s resignation was welcome news.

“I think that we’ve got justice here,” Hartman said.

The Fairness Campaign, which advocates for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, joined other groups in filing a complaint against Nance with the judicial commission.

The commission charged that Nance’s order violated a number of ethics provisions.

Those included rules that require judges to uphold high standards of conduct, comply with the law and act in ways that promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Judges are barred from showing bias or prejudice based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.

Nance also put his recusal rule in place without permission from the state’s chief justice, the commission charged.

The charges could have resulted in sanctions against Nance, ranging from an admonishment to removal from office.

Nance’s attorneys asked the commission to dismiss the case given his decision to resign.

But they also defended his actions, saying that Nance was trying to do the right thing by recusing himself.

The basis for Nance’s position is a sincere religious belief that “the divinely created order of nature is that each human being has a male parent and a female parent,” and therefore, the only adoption that serves a child’s best interest would be one that would create the chance for the child to have a parent of each gender, the attorneys said.

Nance’s decision not to handle adoption cases involving gay parents would have led to impartial decisions and made sure that all families had a fair opportunity for adoption, his response said.

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Kentucky and University of Louisville Law Professor Sam Marcosson joined the ethics complaint against Nance.

The groups said at the time that Nance’s decision not to handle adoptions involving gay people trafficked in false stereotypes that they could not be good parents.

Hartman said he hoped the Judicial Conduct Commission will continue to pursue the case despite Nance’s decision to resign.

“It’s unfortunate that he has not acknowledged the basic discriminatory nature of his actions,” Hartman said.