Judge strikes down Nebraska’s ban on same-sex foster parents

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A Nebraska judge has struck down a policy that prevented same-sex couples from serving as foster parents or adopting wards of the state.

Lancaster County District Judge John Colborn declared the rules unconstitutional, citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed same-sex marriage. The Nebraska attorney general’s office said in a statement Thursday its attorneys would ask the judge to reconsider his decision.

The administrative policy was put in place in 1995, but the ruling says that the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services quietly stopped enforcing the ban in 2012.

According to the ruling, the lack of enforcement created confusion within the department and among state contractors who work with state wards.

Same-sex couples were also forced to undergo a rigorous five-tier review from a DHHS caseworker, supervisor, two administrators and the director of the state’s Children and Family Services Division. Opposite-sex couples only required approval from a caseworker and supervisor.

“This is a special victory for thousands of children in Nebraska who now have more options to find loving and stable homes,” said Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, one of three groups that sued the state on behalf of three same-sex couples.

Colborn ruled that the policy violated the due process and equal protection clauses.

State officials “have not argued, nor have they identified, any legitimate government interest to justify treating gay and lesbian individuals and gay and lesbian couples differently than heterosexual individuals and heterosexual couples in this review process,” the judge wrote.

The attorney general’s office, which defended the policy, said the ruling was broad and could require the department to treat unrelated, unmarried adults who are living together the same as married couples when placing children in foster care.

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