ACLU, gay and lesbian couples sue Nebraska

Story by Veronica Grizzle, NewsNetNebraska

The state of Nebraska is one of four U.S. states with a policy forbidding same-sex couples from being foster parents or adopting children.

Now, a legal challenge is confronting that policy. Last month, three same-sex couples and Nebraska’s American Civil Liberties Union sued Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and the state over the controversial Nebraska policy which has existed since 1995.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services policy prohibits “persons who identify themselves as homosexuals” or persons who are “unrelated, unmarried adults residing together from obtaining foster home licenses or caring for children.”

The plaintiffs

A plaintiff in the lawsuit is Lincoln same-sex couple Greg and Stillman Stewart. When the Stewart’s applied to become foster parents in Nebraska their application was rejected by HHS because of their same-sex relationship. The Stewart’s moved to Nebraska from California two years ago with five adopted children. Their children range in age from 13 to 20. Hoping to help other children in need, the Stewarts’ wanted to foster children in Nebraska.

Greg and Stillman Stewart with their son Arthur.

Greg and Stillman Stewart with their son Arthur.

“But when we called HHS to apply to become foster parents, we were told that despite our experience raising five wonderful children, we were not eligible” Greg Stillman said.

Awaiting comment

HHS officials said they were unable to comment on Nebraska’s policy forbidding same-sex couples to adopt or foster children due to the ongoing litigation. A month before the lawsuit was filed HHS issued a press release encouraging people interested in being foster parents to contact HHS. In the press release Thomas Pristow, Director of the state’s Child and Family Services said; ” [w]e continue to have a need for foster parents who are an important part of what we do. A caring home atmosphere is critical to reducing the trauma children experience when they are removed from their home.”

Attorney General Jon Bruning’s office was contacted for comment on this story and has yet to reply.  A statement released by Bruning’s office after the lawsuit was filed said “Our office is tasked with defending the state and will do so vigorously”.

According to the ACLU, even though Nebraska needs foster and adoptive parents for over 3,800 children, willing same-sex couples are being denied access because of their sexual orientation.

In 1995 when the policy was issued, then director of the Nebraska Department of Social Services Mary Dean Harvey delivered an administrative memorandum which states:

“It is my decision that, effective immediately, it is the policy of the Department of Social Services that children will not be placed in the homes of persons who identify themselves as homosexuals,” the memo said, adding that “this state’s direction and intent is for placement of children in the most family-like setting.”

Florida, Utah and Mississippi share similar policies denying gay and lesbian couples the ability to adopt or be foster parents to children.

In the lawsuit, plantiffs wrote; “Despite the critical need for more foster and adoptive families to meet the needs of children in state care, this policy deprives our state’s most vulnerable children of access to countless loving families … who are willing and able to care for them,” the lawsuit says.

LGBTQ Resource Center view 

The University of Nebraska LGBTQ Resource Center became aware of the case after reports of the lawsuit appeared in the news in August. Pat Tetreault, director of the LGBTQ Resource Center said the state’s policy sends a message; “We don’t place people with gay people or unmarried individuals living together,” Tetrault said.

Tetreault believes gay men and lesbian women make just as good of parents as straight couples. Tetreault said research has shown little difference in the care and development of children adopted or foster parented by by same sex couples compared to heterosexual couples. The ACLU website cited studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the Child Welfare League of America  found a “parents’ sexual orientation has no relevance to parenting ability or the well-being of children.”

“I don’t think someone’s sexual identity identifies parenting skills, it’s more about who they are as people and what their knowledge and skill level are, and how much they love their kids.” Tetreault said.

Nebraska conservatism

One issue gay, lesbian couples and the LGBTQ Resource Center said they face is living in a conservative state. They said living in a Red state makes it harder for some people to receive equal treatment because of their gender orientation.

Parents Greg and Stillman Stewart with their sons David, 13 and Arthur, 20.

Greg and Stillman Stewart with their sons.

Tetreault said that it takes a toll on the people who are fighting for equality in the state. She said that they are people too, and they must raise awareness to receive their rights as people

LGBTQ Resource Center graduate assistant Amy Vanderpool said people sometimes do not understand where they are coming from with their fight for equal rights. She said that “this is something that we really try to meet people on their level and foster this community engagement and collaborative process.”

Three same sex couples sue for adoption and foster rights in the state of Nebraska. A 1995 policy prevents same-sex couples from obtaining foster parent licenses.


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