The Judiciary Committee held a joint hearing March 14 on two bills that would prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in adoption and child placement cases.
Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist introduced LB385, which would prohibit the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) from discriminating based upon race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, marital status or national origin when determining the suitability for a juvenile’s out-of-home placement. The department would be required to make placement decisions based on the health, safety and well being of a child.
Over 3,800 Nebraska children currently are placed in out-of-home care, Nordquist said, and half of them had lived in four or more foster homes in 2012.
“It is the overwhelming conclusion of mainstream child health institutions that nontraditional families can be as successful in the overall care of children as straight parents,” he said. “Good parenting skills are not reserved for those who are straight or of a specific race, religion or gender.”
Omaha Sen. Sara Howard introduced another bill – LB380 – which would provide adoption eligibility by two unmarried individuals without biological parents having to relinquish their legal rights to the child.
Nebraska couples who co-parent are not eligible for medical and other benefits that would assist children in the event of a biological parent’s death, Howard said, so co-parents currently do not have sufficient tools to ensure the well being of their children.
“Children of unmarried parents love and rely on their parents regardless of the legal status of the relationship,” Howard said. “A government that stands as an obstacle to parents meeting the needs of their children is a destructive government.”
Amy Miller, a member of ACLU-Nebraska, testified in support of the bills, saying she has represented couples who were ineligible to adopt their children because they were unmarried.
The Nebraska Supreme Court determined that such couples were not unfit to be parents, she said, but the current laws prohibited the court from allowing them to adopt. Current statutes need to be rewritten because the courts can interpret laws to protect children only to the extent the law allows, she said.
Tami Lewis-Ahrendt, a Lincoln resident, also testified in support of the bills. She said she and her spouse considered becoming foster parents but were discouraged after DHHS representatives suggested they would be ineligible due to their sexual orientation and marital status. Children are living in shelters when there are couples willing to provide them a safe home, she said.
“The only thing more despicable than neglect of a child is the willful neglect of a child based on discrimination,” Lewis-Ahrendt said. “It is a disservice to our community, system and the children who need us.”
Dave Bydalek, executive director of Family First Nebraska, testified in opposition to LB380, saying it would substantially change the adoption process.
“The practical effect of allowing an unmarried couple to jointly adopt a child would be to place that child into an environment with two entirely autonomous decision makers; that is two people, unconnected by law, with no legal obligations to one another,” he said. “If one of these individuals decided to end the relationship, there is no legally defined exit strategy to benefit the best interest of the child.”
The committee took no immediate action on the bills.