CONCORD, NH--In a stunning reversal, New Hampshire this week repealed a 12-year-old law banning gays and lesbians from foster or adoptive parenting.
What made today's action even more remarkable, the American Civil Liberties Union said, is that the law was one of only two in the nation. The ACLU said that next month it plans to challenge the second such law, now on the books in Florida.
Following yesterday's 18-6 vote in the state senate and an overwhelming majority vote in the house in February, New Hampshire's repeal bill now awaits Governor Jeanne Shaheen's signature. Shaheen, who last year authorized a law banning dis-crimination against gays and lesbians in employment, housing or public accommo-dations, is expected to sign the bill by early next week.
"We are delighted that after 12 years, New Hampshire lawmakers are putting children first and bias last," said Claire Ebel, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. "This is wonderful news for all of the needy children in New Hampshire who want parents, not politics."
The effort to repeal the bill was led by Rep. Raymond Buckley, D-Manchester, with help from the ACLU of New Hampshire, Out and Equal New Hampshire, and other advocacy groups. At a hearing prior to the house vote, lawmakers heard tes-timony from gay and lesbian parents, social workers, and religious leaders in favor of repeal, including the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.
Supporters of repeal argued that the law limited the number of foster and adop-tive parents available to the 1,700 children in the state currently in care or awaiting placement. Opponents repeatedly raised theological arguments about the morality of homosexuality. In the end, the best interests of the children won out.
"New Hampshire's action is a clear message to other states that these types of bias laws are bad for children and bad for politics," said Jennifer Middleton, Staff Attorney with the ACLU's National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.
Currently, five states around the country (Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Texas and Utah) are considering or have recently considered bans on gay and lesbian foster care and/or adoption. Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a challenge to an Arkansas policy prohibiting qualified gays and lesbians -- and any heterosexuals who live with them -- from serving as foster parents.
According to Ebel, in order to preclude any legal challenges lawmakers secured a special legal affirmation from the State Supreme Court in 1987, shortly before the ban was enacted.
"This law was passed overwhelmingly in 1987 during the height of the AIDS epidemic," said Ebel. "Happily, we no longer face the kind of fear and ignorance that led to the passage of this mean-spirited, misguided law."
Many states have moved to safeguard the interests of children with gay or lesbian parents. For example, at least 21 states have granted co-parent adoptions to lesbian and gay couples, ensuring that their children can enjoy the benefits of having two legal parents, especially if one of the parents dies or becomes incapacitated.