Missouri Judge Rules That Lesbian Can Be Foster Parent

February 17, 2006 12:00 am

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Decision in Harmony with Majority of Missourians, According to Recent Poll

KANSAS CITY, MO – A Jackson County Circuit Court judge today overturned a Missouri Department of Social Services decision denying a woman’s application to become a foster parent because she is a lesbian. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the applicant, Lisa Johnston, in challenging the denial, hailed the ruling as an important move towards increasing the pool of qualified foster parents for the nearly 2,000 children in Missouri who need foster homes.

“We’re really relieved that the court has recognized that banning lesbian and gay people from being foster parents is bad for Missouri’s foster children,” said Johnston, who along with her partner Dawn Roginski had hoped to foster a special-needs child before her application was denied. “We were saddened when we found out that our loving each other was the only reason the state had for denying us the opportunity to give a child a home.”

Today’s decision is in line with the beliefs of 58 percent of Missouri citizens, according to a recent poll on their feelings about gay parents. The poll, which was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and commissioned by Human Rights Campaign for PROMO, Missouri’s statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality organization, found that a majority of people from all over the state are opposed to categorically banning lesbian and gay people from being foster or adoptive parents.

Part of the state’s reason for the denial was based on a state law banning sexual intimacy between same-sex couples that was already rendered unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas two years ago. In a 16-page ruling, Circuit Judge Sandra C. Midkiff responded, “No moral conclusions may be drawn from a constitutionally unenforceable statue.”

Johnston, a 40-year-old graduate of the University of Kansas who holds a degree in Human Development and Family with a special emphasis on child development, had applied to DSS in 2003 to become a foster parent to a child that she and Roginski hoped to raise together. The couple underwent an extensive home study and began attending a training program for prospective foster parents until DSS notified Johnston that it would no longer consider her for placement because she is a lesbian. Although the administrative judge found Johnston to be “exceptionally” qualified to foster parent, he upheld the denial of her application in March 2005.

Among the national groups that support parenting by gay and lesbian people are the Child Welfare League of America, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

“The court found that none of the reasons the state gave for blocking an entire group of potential foster parents were justifiable,” said Ken Choe, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

“The Missouri Department of Social Services seems to think that making a biased political statement is more important than finding good homes for the nearly 2,000 children in need of foster homes in Missouri, and the court didn’t buy it,” said Julie Brueggemann, Executive Director of PROMO.

Under Missouri law, every potential foster parent is already required to undergo strict screening before being qualified as foster parents. Ironically, Johnston and Roginski are far more qualified than most foster care applicants. Johnston works in child development and has a great deal of experience helping abused, neglected, and developmentally challenged children. Roginski is a chaplain at a psychiatric treatment center for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders, working with children assigned to the center by juvenile courts as well as children who have had difficulty with prior foster care placements. The couple are church leaders and lead a peaceful, home-centered life.

Johnston is represented by Ken Choe of the ACLU’s national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri cooperating attorney Lisa Brunner of Husch & Eppenberger, LLC.

To read the order for summary judgment go to www.aclu.org/lgbt/parenting/24194lgl20060217.html

Additional information about the case, including biographical information about Johnston and Roginski, is available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles

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