While same-sex couples have long been able to adopt from private, gay-friendly adoption agencies, adopting children from the foster care system in America has proved more difficult in some states.
Some states have even taken up legislation that would allow taxpayer-funded contractors – that oversee state adoptions – to refuse gay or lesbian individuals from adopting children if it conflicts with the organization’s religious beliefs.
Some also have policies that do not allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt foster children jointly, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In Alabama, where a federal court overruled the state’s ban on gay marriage, gay couples were also not allowed to adopt jointly.
But many of those states are changing their policies in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.
That’s the case in North Dakota, where the law allows single people to adopt but specifies that adopting couples must be “husband and wife.”
Julie Hoffman, adoptions administrator for the state Department of Human Services, said:
It’s simple. Now that gay couples are allowed to marry, they’ll be treated like any other married couple who’s adopting.”
Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and South Dakota also are changing their practices to allow married gay couples to go through the adoption process together. Some of them said they’re starting to update their forms to make them gender neutral.
In Alabama, married gay couples will be allowed to adopt a foster child, but they’ll have to wait longer than most – the state requires married couples interested in adopting to have been married for a year before beginning the adoption process.
Mississippi is the only state that has a law that specifically bars gay couples from adopting foster children, and Julia Bryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, said the law will be followed unless the legislature makes any changes when it reconvenes in January. However, the ban is being challenged in the courts.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services also will wait on the legislature before changing how it operates, according to spokeswoman Julie Moody.
Gay couples in the state will have to continue to have one member of the couple formally adopt the child, and then the other member has to come back later to do a second parent adoption – a similar process to a step parent adopting a stepchild.
Nebraska policy prevented unmarried couples, gay or straight, from fostering or adopting state wards until 2012, when the state started allowing same-sex couples to become foster parents, ultimately placing foster children with 15 same-sex couples.
A county judge recently struck down the unmarried couple ban. But the state is planning to challenge that, saying that the broad scope of the order would require its Department of Health and Human Services to treat “unrelated, unmarried adults residing together” the same as it treats individuals and married couples.
A statement from the Attorney General’s Office said that would make it more difficult to make placements in the best interest of the child.