Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, commended a move by Nebraska child welfare officials to stop enforcing a two-decade-old policy barring gay and lesbian couples from obtaining state foster parent licenses.

The change in procedure, according to a report in the Omaha World Herald, came quietly and was confirmed Friday by Gov. Pete Ricketts’ spokesman, who said that the sexual orientation of people seeking to foster or adopt children who are wards of the state will no longer be considered in the licensing process, nor will children be barred from placement with licensed foster parents based on their sexual orientation.

“Nebraska's change in policy not only puts an end to years of misguided discrimination against the LGBT community, but, more importantly, it allows child welfare agencies to expand the pool of foster and adoptive families for Nebraska's children,” said Ellen Kahn, director of HRC Foundation’s Children, Youth & Families Program.  

The state, however, continues its defense of the old policy in court, where it has been challenged by three same-sex couples who were barred from adopting children, or obtaining a foster home licenses. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Nebraska filed the lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of the couples.

“While the ACLU's lawsuit on behalf of Nebraska same-sex couples who were barred from fostering and adopting is still in process, there is no doubt that the state’s Department of Health and Human Services took a clear signal from that case and proactively started the process of removing the barriers for the LGBT community,” Kahn said.

Federal District Judge Joseph Bataillon today issued an injunction against Nebraska’s ban on marriage equality, an action that, among its effects, will allow married same-sex couples to adopt and provide licensed foster care. The state has appealed the injunction, which  requires that all state officials treat same-sex couples equally for the purposes of marriage effective March 9.

Same-sex couples can legally marry in 37 states and the District of Columbia; oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality are just weeks away.

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