Three Lincoln, Nebraska, couples went to court Tuesday to challenge a Nebraska policy as unconstitutional. 



Three Lincoln, Nebraska, couples went to court Tuesday to challenge a Nebraska policy as unconstitutional. The 18-year-old state policy bans unrelated, unmarried couples and openly gay people from becoming foster parents. The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit on their behalf in Lancaster County District Court. The three couples, Joel Busch and Todd Vesely (pictured), Greg and Stillman Stewart, and Lisa Blakey and Janet Rodriguez, are all equally fit parents in the eyes of the law—they just so happen to be openly gay.

Martha Stoddard for World-Herald Bureau reports: Leslie Cooper, senior staff attorney for ACLU, said the policy violates the couples’ right to equal protection and their right to due process under both the state and federal constitutions. “Because banning lesbians and gay men from being foster parents furthers no child welfare purpose and, instead, works against the interests of children by denying them access to loving families, this policy is unconstitutional,” Cooper said. Defendants include Gov. Dave Heineman, Kerry Winterer, CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Thomas Pristow, children and family services director for HHS. Heineman’s spokeswoman, Jen Rae Wang, noted the policy dated to former Gov. Ben Nelson’s administration but declined to comment further because of the lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jon Bruning said: “Our office is tasked with defending the state, and we will do so vigorously.” The HHS policy has been in place since 1995, when a former department director issued an administrative memo. It prohibits unmarried, unrelated adults who live together from being considered as foster parents, which includes homosexual couples, unmarried heterosexual couples and platonic roommates. The policy also bars children from being placed in the homes of “persons who identify themselves as homosexuals,” whether those people live with a partner or not. Single people are not otherwise prohibited from being foster parents. Cooper said the policy harms children in need of safe, loving, stable families by turning away qualified couples. “They could take in a passel of kids tomorrow,” she said of the plaintiffs.

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