A West Virginia judge who twice won election to the bench in a section of the state near the Maryland border has discontinued performing all marriages rather than face possible disciplinary action for refusing to perform same-sex marriages.
Fairness West Virginia, a statewide LGBT rights group, said it filed a complaint against Judge Lynn A. Nelson of the Twenty-First Judicial Circuit covering Grant, Mineral, and Tucker Counties after one of the judge’s clerks told the group he performed marriages for opposite-sex couples but not for same-sex couples.
In a Dec. 10 statement, Fairness West Virginia said it filed the complaint with the state Judicial Investigations Commission, which it said issued a warning to Nelson on Oct. 25 and then “dismissed the matter.” The group said it filed the complaint after first contacting the judge’s office for an explanation and received no response.
“Last week, Fairness contacted Nelson’s office again and learned from a clerk that he has stopped performing marriages altogether,” the group said in its statement.
“It is unfortunate, because it appears that 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, the group’s 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,” Schneider said. He called on Nelson to provide marriage services to everyone, even though his decision to stop performing all marriages means he’s technically treating all couples equally.
“Loving same-sex couples only want what their opposite-sex counterparts have, the ability to be married and live their lives together,” Schneider said.
The West Virginia judiciary website says Nelson served in the elected position of Mineral County prosecutor from 1989 to 2008. He won election to the bench in the Twenty-First Judicial Circuit in 2008 and was re-elected to a second eight-year term in 2016.
Fairness West Virginia said it learned of Nelson’s refusal to perform same-sex marriages through a telephone survey it conducted of all of the state’s Circuit Court and Family Court judges to determine which ones performed marriage ceremonies. It said Nelson’s was the only office that stated the judge did not perform same-sex marriages.
The group says its survey found that about half of all judges said they don’t perform marriages at all and that in four counties in the state – Ritchie, Wood, Wayne, and Gilmer – no public officials perform marriages.
As a means of assisting gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage related services Fairness West Virginia says it 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.”