LINCOLN — A state legislative committee advanced a bill Friday that would allow gay and lesbian couples to serve as foster parents, as long as they were relatives or had a previous “significant” relationship with the child.
Legislative Bill 385 would amend current state policy, which prohibits openly homosexual people and unrelated, unmarried adults who live together from being considered as foster parents.
The bill won't be debated until next year, but it puts a controversial issue on the agenda for 2014.
The sponsor of LB 385, State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, said the amended bill is a “common-sense” policy change that recognizes foster children are better off living with relatives or foster parents they know.
As originally written, Nordquist's bill would have barred discrimination against any gay or lesbian couple seeking to become foster parents. The senator said he narrowed the bill to allow only relatives and cases where at least one of the primary caretakers “has previously lived with or is a trusted adult that has a pre-existing, significant relationship” with a foster child.
The amended bill, Nordquist said, has a more realistic chance of passing in the Legislature.
The amended bill advanced on a 5-1 vote from the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. Two senators were absent.
The lone “no” vote was from Imperial Sen. Mark Christensen, who said he's concerned about the “unintended consequences” of amending state policy. Christensen said he was concerned that opening this door to gays and lesbians will lead to other changes.
Nordquist said he will not attempt to broaden LB 385 beyond its current scope.
Nebraska passed a ban on same-sex marriage in 2000, and it is one of 31 states to have a state constitutional ban.
Twelve states, including Iowa, and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages.
Two other bills to end discrimination based on sexual orientation were introduced in the Legislature this year but have not advanced.
One, LB 380, would allow two unmarried people to adopt a child together; current law allows adoptions only by one person in an unmarried couple. The second measure, LB 485, would outlaw discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. It was based on an ordinance passed in Omaha last year.
Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he would like to see the Legislature consider doing more to end all discrimination against gays and lesbians.
“It's coming. It's coming faster in other states,” Ashford said. “We need to have a healthy debate.”
He called LB 385 “a very, very small step.”
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