WV Judge Warned for Discriminating Against Same-Sex Couples

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A complaint filed by Fairness West Virginia has resulted in a warning for a circuit judge for discriminating against same-sex couples.

Earlier this year, Fairness conducted a phone survey of all the state’s circuit court and family court judges to determine which judges performed marriage ceremonies. In some cases, a public official might be the only option for a same-sex couple seeking to wed.

During the survey, Fairness learned of just one judge in the state who admitted to discriminating against same-sex couples. A clerk in Judge Lynn A. Nelson’s office told the organization that Judge Nelson performs marriages for opposite-sex couples, but not for those of the same sex.

In May, Fairness wrote a letter to Judge Nelson, who serves on the 21st Judicial Circuit covering Mineral, Grant and Tucker counties, asking him to clarify his position. No response was received.

Fairness then filed a formal complaint with the state Judicial Investigation Commission, which issued a warning to Nelson on Oct. 25 and then dismissed the matter.

Last week Fairness contacted Nelson’s office again and learned from a clerk that he has stopped performing marriages altogether.

“It is so unfortunate, because it appears the judge is willing to deny this service to everyone so as to avoid providing equal treatment to gay and lesbian couples,” said Andrew Schneider, Fairness West Virginia executive director. “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.”

While Nelson’s move technically means he is now treating all couples equally, Schneider called on the judge to provide marriage services for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

“Loving same-sex couples only want what their opposite-sex counterparts have, the ability to be married and live their lives together,” he said.

About half of the judges surveyed said they do not perform marriages at all. There are four counties in West Virginia – Ritchie, Wood, Wayne, and Gilmer – where no public officials perform marriages.

However, Fairness has compiled a statewide LGBTQ+ Wedding Resource Guide that lists more than 70 ordained individuals who are willing to officiate ceremonies, regardless of the gender of those being married.

“We are always interested in adding to our resource guide,” said Billy Wolfe, Fairness communications specialist. “To be listed, simply email me at billy@fairnesswv.org.”