The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission issued a warning to a circuit judge in Northern West Virginia for not performing same-sex marriages in his courtroom.
The commission did not charge Mineral Circuit Judge Lynn Nelson with any ethical violations of the Judicial Code of Conduct following a review initiated by a complaint by Fairness West Virginia in October, according to a letter the commission sent to Fairness West Virginia on Oct. 25.
Fairness West Virginia provided a copy of the letter to the Gazette-Mail.
Nelson generally agreed with the description of events in a news release from Fairness West Virginia, an organization that advocates to fair treatment and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender West Virginians.
Judicial Investigation Commission General Counsel Teresa Tarr declined to comment on the matter Monday.
Fairness West Virginia completed a phone survey with circuit judges throughout the state to determine which judges performed ceremonies and found Nelson to be the only judge who “admitted to discriminating against same-sex couples,” Billy Wolfe, communications specialist for Fairness, said in the release.
After the survey, a member of Fairness West Virginia contacted Nelson’s judicial office in Keyser, and a clerk confirmed the judge only performed ceremonies for opposite-sex couples.
Fairness West Virginia then filed a complaint with the Judicial Investigation Commission.
The Judicial Investigation Commission reached out to Nelson following the complaint from Fairness West Virginia, and he said he told the commission he didn’t perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
In response to the complaint, Nelson agreed to stop performing marriage ceremonies altogether.
“It’s against my religious beliefs,” Nelson said. “I’ve allowed same-sex couples to adopt children in my courtroom. I’ve given them their children back in abuse and neglect cases. On divorce appeals, I’ve handled them just like everybody else, but I’m just not interested in getting them married. The Supreme Court told me I didn’t have to marry anyone I didn’t want to.”
Nelson said he has refused to perform marriage ceremonies for opposite-sex couples for various reasons.
Nelson isn’t the only judge in the state who altogether refuses to perform marriage ceremonies for any couple, according to the Fairness West Virginia release, but Andrew Schneider, executive director of the organization, called Nelson’s decision to stop performing marriages altogether “unfortunate.”
“It appears the judge is willing to deny this service to everyone so as to avoid providing equal treatment to gay and lesbian couples,” Schneider said. “Private citizens like clergy are free to choose who they marry or refuse to marry, but public officials must treat everyone the same, by law.”
Based on the Fairness West Virginia phone survey, no judges in Ritchie, Wood, Wayne or Gilmer counties perform marriage ceremonies, regardless of the genders of the people seeking to be married.
There were 2,800 same-sex couples in West Virginia in 2017, according to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy, a public policy research institute based at the UCLA School of Law.
Researchers at the institute compiled data about the LGBTQ population throughout the United States using 2010 Census data in the 2017 report.
That report estimated that same-sex marriage would add $9 million to the state economy and generate up to 80 full-time jobs.
Fairness West Virginia has an LGBTQ+ Wedding Resource Guide that lists ordained individuals who will officiate any wedding ceremony, regardless of the gender of the people being married. The guide also lists services providers, like DJ’s, bakers, caterers and others, that will provide wedding services, regardless of the genders of the people planning to get married.