A recent unanimous Nebraska Supreme Court decision provides an important message for our state. Same-sex married couples, the court’s seven members agreed, have the right to adopt a child together.
The court’s decision underscores an all-important legal fact: Recognition of gay marriage is a settled part of U.S. law. Thus, Nebraska law allows adoption of a child by a married couple, regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation.
The court’s conclusion points to the need of modern society to show respect to all Americans. A major part of our national history is the gradual extension of legal safeguards — civil rights, voting rights — across the breadth of the nation’s citizenry. The buttressing of legal protections for gay Americans is the latest chapter in that story.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court majority, addressed this issue well in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on gay marriage. The hope of same-sex couples, Kennedy wrote, “is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity under the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
In the Nebraska adoption case, two women who were married in California in 2008 filed for adoption in Dixon County Court in May. The adoption filing involved a child born to one of the women’s sisters. The child’s biological mother relinquished her, and her father never sought custody.
After a special hearing on the matter, Dixon County Judge Douglas Luebe ruled against the couple, saying the “plain ordinary language” of relevant statutes forbade adoption by a same-sex couple. To allow a “wife and wife” to adopt would turn the court into an “imagination station,” wrote Luebe, who described himself as “old-fashioned” in his approach to the law.
The Nebraska Supreme Court — known for honing closely to the letter of the law — overturned the judge’s ruling, unanimously agreeing that the plain language of the law supports the couple’s request. The court’s ruling makes clear that in the 21st century, same-sex couples are equal under the law to other couples.
The court’s decision points to another important principle: In rendering decisions, judges should be guided by the law, not by their personal views.
The ruling, while significant, doesn’t wipe away all obstacles facing LGBTQ Nebraskans. The Legislature, for example, continues to fail to approve legislation that would give protection against job discrimination to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.
Omaha has a city ordinance providing such protection, as previously given to people based on race, color, religion, sex and disability, and the measure has been positive for individuals and our community. Such action promotes a spirit of fellowship and solidarity. It also helps maximize a community’s opportunities for progress and growth.
Nebraska lawmakers should acknowledge that 21st-century reality by approving statewide protections. Such action would be in tune with the new State Supreme Court ruling. It also would buttress one of modern society’s central needs: extending respect to all citizens.
The court’s decision underscores an all-important legal fact: Recognition of gay marriage is a settled part of U.S. law.