State drops appeal in gay foster parent case

Friday, June 9, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gay rights and children's advocates on Thursday praised the attorney general's decision to drop a legal fight over gay foster parents, but the state agency said the battle isn't over.

Attorney General Jay Nixon officially dropped the state's appeal of a judge's decision that a lesbian was wrongly denied the opportunity to become a foster parent.

"Missouri can no longer use an unconstitutional law to discriminate against us," said Julie Brueggemann, executive director of PROMO, a gay rights group. "I am hopeful that the Missouri Department of Social Services will change their discriminatory policy. There's no longer any reason to have that policy."

Department spokeswoman Deborah Scott said if the appeal is over, despite the agency's objections, it would allow Lisa Johnston to continue the process to become a foster parent. But she said the agency isn't moving to allow other gay people to be foster parents.

Rather, she said, the agency is putting in writing many aspects of its policy on foster parent licensing, including how to treat gay applicants.

"Right now we are reviewing and researching the implications of the Jackson County ruling on the division's policy. It's a little too soon to say what, if any, changes would be made," Scott said. "We are going to promulgate an emergency rule to empower the department to continue to protect children."

Denied license

The Missouri Supreme Court had placed the effect of the lower court's decision on hold while the appeal was being pursued.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Sandra Midkiff ruled in February that the department improperly denied Johnston's application to become a foster parent because she is a lesbian and ordered the agency to resume training and grant Johnston's license if she meets other requirements.

The Department of Social Services primarily cited a state law banning same-sex sexual contact as a reason for denying the license, saying as a result Johnston was not of "reputable character" as state rules require of foster parents.

The judge said the law was unenforceable in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking a similar Texas law in 2003. This week, Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation aimed at sex offenders that also removes the gay-sex law from the books, and it took effect immediately.

As a result, Nixon on Wednesday filed paperwork saying the state was dropping its appeal, with his office saying there is no legal ground left to continue the appeal.

In denying the license, the state agency had said some parents might object to their child being placed with a gay person and that a child from such a home could face a social stigma.

But the judge noted no state law prohibits gay people from being foster parents and said she found no actual evidence of parents' objecting or that a child would be stigmatized from the placement.

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