Gay Couples to Nebraska: Let Go of Prejudice and Let Us Adopt

As Greg and Stillman Stewart told us, it’s about putting the needs of kids before the prejudices of grown-ups.

The Stewarts and a few of their foster children. (Courtesy of ACLU)

May 2, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Hayley Fox is a regular contributor to TakePart who has covered breaking news and the occasional animal story for public radio station KPCC in Los Angeles.

There’s new hope that Greg and Stillman Stewart, a gay couple who have been together for 34 years, might not have to suffer an empty nest.

They adopted five sons when they were living in California, and they moved to Nebraska a few years ago, when Greg, a minister, took a job with a church there. But as the boys grew up and began moving out, they looked to grow their family.

“I was told, ‘Don’t waste your time. It’s a waste of time; there’s no way they’ll let you adopt here,’ ” Stillman Stewart said was the response when the couple first began inquiring about fostering kids in Nebraska.

The ACLU took on the Stewarts’ case, along with those of two other gay and lesbian couples, and filed a lawsuit arguing that Nebraska’s policy from 1995, which bans gay or unwed couples from becoming foster parents, is unconstitutional. Last week, the state’s request to dismiss the case was denied by a Nebraska court, so now the landmark case can move forward.

“It confirmed for me that once again we are on the right side of history, and justice is possible for anyone in the United States of America, and particularly Nebraska,” Greg Stewart said.

Nebraska is one of three states that doesn’t allow gay or unmarried couples to foster or adopt kids. Mississippi has a statute that says same-sex couples cannot adopt. Utah has a law that prohibits unwed, cohabiting couples from adopting, either as a unit or as single parents. That effectively rules out gay individuals, because same-sex marriage is illegal in Utah.

The Stewarts were legally wed in California in 2008; their marriage isn’t recognized in Nebraska. That alone is a violation of the equal protection clause, said Leslie Cooper, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU.

Furthermore, there’s no rational basis for excluding gay couples from fostering kids, as the children will be equally well off whether or not they’re raised by straight parents, Cooper said. LGBT parenting has been publicly supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and a wide range of national groups.

LGBT couples aren’t asking for special treatment; they should be evaluated and “put through the paces” that every other prospective foster parent is, said Cooper. Considering that Nebraska has about 4,000 kids in its foster care system, according to the state’s review office, there is no shortage of children in need of a permanent home.

One of the Stewarts’ kids went through three failed adoptions before finally landing in their home. Another had been in more than 17 foster homes before he joined the Stewart family. This is a painful and common phenomenon for foster kids across the country, including in Nebraska. About 40 percent of kids in Nebraska’s foster system have been in at least four homes, according to the Foster Care Review Office.

The ACLU has been successful in overturning other states’ antigay adoption and fostering clauses. Florida’s law banning gay couples from adopting was struck down in 2010. A few years prior, an Arkansas regulation that banned anyone who lived with a gay adult from becoming a foster parent was also struck down.

Although the Stewarts’ lawsuit has taken a national stage, the couple say their desire to bring more children into their family is deeply personal. Their kids are nearly grown up, ranging in age from 14 to 21. One child has moved out, and two are set to graduate from high school this year. The empty nest looms.

“There is a part of this that’s really just about expanding our own family,” Greg Stewart said. But it’s also important to “put the needs of children before the prejudices of those in power.”