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Nebraska's Ban on Gay Foster Parents is Beatable

James Esseks,
Director, LGBTQ & HIV Project,
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April 25, 2014

The Cornhusker State’s discriminatory ban on gay foster parents looks increasingly rickety.

A Nebraska state trial court ruled today that our challenge to the state’s ban on foster parenting or adoption by gay people can proceed. The ruling denies the state’s attempt to kick us out of court and recognizes that the ban implicates the equality protections of the Nebraska constitution.

At the heart of the case are Greg and Stillman Stewart, who have been together for over 30 years and are parents to five children that they adopted out of the California foster care system. Most of the kids came to them after suffering years of abuse and multiple foster home placements. When one of their children first came to live with them, at five years old, he was still in diapers and didn’t know how to use utensils. By 17, he brought home a report card with all As and one B. Another child, who had been through 17 foster home placements and three failed adoptions in three different states, is now a college sophomore.

The whole family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2011, when Greg, a minister, took a position with a church there. As their kids have grown and some have moved out of the house, Greg and Stillman realized they wanted to open their home to more children in need. Yet when they applied for a Nebraska foster parent license, they were turned away because they’re gay men.

Nebraska bars gay people from being foster parents and also bars any unmarried couple that lives together from being foster parents. Since Nebraska screens all foster care applicants by doing a home study, checking for criminal history or past child abuse, reviewing medical and mental health records, and evaluating the family’s stability and ability to care for children, this ban simply means that Nebraska is kicking out lesbians and gay men who would pass the regular foster parent screening. And it’s depriving the 3,854 kids in the Nebraska foster care system, almost half of whom have been there for more than a year, of what could be just the home they need. After all, there aren’t many foster parent applicants with a record like Greg and Stillman’s.

Today the judge ruled that Greg and Stillman’s case can go forward to discovery and then possibly trial. We fully intend this case to take down Nebraska’s discriminatory ban, just as we have taken down similar bans on adoption or foster parenting by gay people in Arkansas, Florida, and Missouri. Nebraska is one of just three states that still have some kind of ban on foster parenting or adoptions by gay people – Utah and Mississippi are the other two – and we’re aiming to get to zero.

Besides leaving some kids in group homes and emergency shelters rather than in the care of loving families, this law reinforces baseless stereotypes about gay people as parents. This case provides us the opportunity to show the court, and the country, that kids raised by lesbians and gay men do just as well as kids raised by straight parents, and that all those ugly stereotypes have no basis in reality. With the story of Greg and Stillman and their children, we’re confident we can show just how misguided the Nebraska ban is.

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