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ACLU Asks Nebraska Court to Strike Down Ban on Gay and Lesbian Foster Parents

Suit filed on behalf of three Lincoln couples

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Nebraska, and the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP today filed a lawsuit in state court to strike down a state policy that bans gay and lesbian individuals and couples from being foster parents.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three couples:

Greg and Stillman Stewart of Lincoln have been together for over 30 years. Greg is a minister and Stillman works with at-risk children at a middle school. Together they have five children, who now range in age from 13 to 20, and whom they adopted from the California foster care system before moving to Nebraska. Most of the children experienced significant abuse and neglect and multiple foster placements before being placed with Greg and Stillman, but are now thriving. Now that some of their children are grown, Greg and Stillman would like to be there for other children in need.

Lisa Blakey and Janet Rodriguez of Lincoln have been together for eight years. Blakey came through the foster system herself and personally knows how important it is for children in foster care to have safe, loving families. They are eager to welcome older children and sibling groups into their family because they know it is often hard to find families willing to care for them.

Todd Vesely and Joel Busch of Lincoln have been together for nine years. Vesely, a retired Marine, and Busch, a store manager, have long wished to become foster parents and initially applied in 2008 but were disqualified because of the policy. 

"We know first-hand the pain children experience when they are put through the trauma of multiple failed placements," said Greg Stewart. "When we moved to Nebraska, we felt we could welcome other children in need of families now that our kids are grown. 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."

The state's policy, dating from 1995, prohibits the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services from placing foster children with "persons who identify themselves as homosexuals" or persons who are "unrelated, unmarried adults residing together." (Nebraska amended its constitution in 2000 to ban recognition of any same-sex relationship.) The ban also prohibits these individuals from adopting children from the foster care system, since individuals must first be licensed as foster parents before they can adopt children from state custody.

"There are more than 3,800 children in the foster care system in Nebraska, too many of whom have been through multiple failed placements, long stays in emergency shelters, and long waits to be adopted because we don’t have enough families who are willing and able to care for them," said Amy Miller of the ACLU of Nebraska. "This law cruelly takes stable, loving families away from the vulnerable children who desperately need them."

Every major children's health and welfare professional group – including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the Child Welfare League of America – agrees that parents' sexual orientation has no relevance to parenting ability or the well-being of children.

"The state individually screens all applicants before placing children in their homes. The only thing this policy does is turn away people who would make good foster and adoptive parents," said Leslie Cooper, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "This law has nothing to do with children's welfare and everything to do with discrimination."

"Our clients are willing and able to open their hearts and their homes to kids who need a family," said Garrard Beeney of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. "The state should be doing all it can to help these children, not make it harder for them."

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