LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska welfare officials have been placing foster children in the homes of gay, lesbian and unmarried couples since before Gov. Pete Ricketts took office in January, despite a 1995 policy barring the state from doing so, the governor's spokesman said Monday.
The state's Department of Health and Human Services established a policy in 1995 that prohibited the placement of foster children with gay and lesbian couples or unmarried couples unless they are related to the children.
During a review of state agencies, Ricketts’ office learned that the DHHS has been ignoring the policy, his spokesman Taylor Gage said. He said he didn't know when the state began placing children with such couples or how many children had been placed in such homes.
The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of three Nebraska couples who say they were denied licenses to be foster parents based on their sexual orientation. Nebraska has continued to defend the policy and the case is pending in Lancaster County District Court.
Gage said the governor's office is working with DHHS on a new policy that will be “in line with state law and practices that continue to reflect best interest of child and Nebraska family values,” but he didn't say when the new policy might be in place or whether it would allow gay, lesbian and unmarried couples to continue fostering children.
A state Senate committee is reviewing legislation that would bar discrimination against potential foster parents based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or other factors. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, said it's not enough to simply ignore the 1995 policy.
“If we could get some clarity, there wouldn't be any need for legislation,” he said.
Only Nebraska and Utah have policies prohibiting gay people from being foster parents. Critics of Nebraska's policy say the state already lacks safe homes for 3,000 wards of the state, 33 percent of whom have been placed in four or more homes.