Nebraska will no longer consider the sexual orientation or marital status of individuals wanting to be foster parents or adopt wards of the state, the governor's office announced Friday.
A policy in place since 1995 had banned "unmarried, unrelated adults who live together from being foster parents," reports the Omaha World-Herald. While the policy also applied to unmarried heterosexual couples and cohabitating heterosexual roommates, it specifically excluded applicants who "identified themselves as homosexuals, whether they live with a partner or not." It did not exclude single people (who did not come out as gay) from becoming foster parents.
"The policy hasn't changed but the Department [of Health and Human Services] has fallen out of compliance with it," Gov. Pete Ricketts' spokesman Taylor Gage told the World-Herald Friday.
According to the new procedure, child welfare agencies will no longer consider the sexual orientation of individuals applying to be foster parents or those wanting to adopt a ward of the state. Additionally, the updated procedure will no longer "bar children from being placed with licensed foster parents simply because of the parents' sexual orientation," according to the World-Herald.
"Nothing is more important than the best interests of the child, and it's critical that the department take steps to ensure that both policy and procedure reflect that goal," Gage told the newspaper.
Although HHS officials going forward will not enforce the ban, the World-Herald notes that Ricketts' administration is continuing to defend a legal challenge to the gay foster parent adoption ban filed by three couples in Lincoln.
Notably, Gage confirmed that HHS officials had effectively abandoned the antigay policy before Ricketts took office in January, but explained that the Governor's office asked for a review of the difference between policy and practice as part of a larger review the Republican governor has ordered all state agencies to undertake.