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Bills say non-marital parenting makes no difference to children

The new Nebraska Legislature, with 11 members who were not part of the elite body last year, has completed a third of its 2013 session. Already, 15 bills have been passed and more than a dozen others indefinitely postponed at the committee stage. The start has been smooth and this lawmaking journey is well under way.

Hearings have been held on more than half of the 670 or so introduced bills and substantive legislative resolutions, which include proposed constitutional amendments. Hearings will continue over the next three weeks. Priority-bill designations will soon start to be announced and by March 15 all 49 legislators and the 14 standing committees will have made those selections, one for each legislator, two for each committee. These bills, along with a couple dozen more to be prioritized by the speaker, will pretty much set the course for the remainder of the session, except for the highly important package of budget bills.

More than 115 bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee for public hearings and early-stage filtering. Looming ahead and soon to be considered are two bills - both opposed by the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) - that are provocative, intensely challenging and emotionally charged, having to do with the nature of family and the best interest of children.

LB380, introduced by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard, proposes to change the Nebraska law governing adoption in a way that would allow any two adult persons, whether married or not, to jointly adopt a child. Furthermore, any parent of a child could consent to adoption of the child by the parent's spouse "or by another adult who will share parental responsibility for the child with such parent, without the parent having to relinquish his or her legal rights to the child."

This latter aspect is largely in response to a 2002 decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court, which ruled that an unmarried partner could not use adoption to become, in essence, a co-parent of a same-sex partner's biological child, because Nebraska law allows for adoption without relinquishment of a biological parent's rights only when the adopting party is the husband or wife of the biological parent.

LB385, introduced by Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, addresses the context of out-of-home placement of juveniles in foster care. It would add a policy provision to the Nebraska Juvenile Code that would explicitly prohibit the state Department of Health and Human Services, when determining the suitability of an out-of-home placement, from discriminating "on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, marital status, or national origin." This would mean the agency could not take any of these factors into consideration in making placement decisions, except perhaps to the extent that some federal laws might apply.

Setting aside the uncertain influence of political correctness, the debates over both LB380 and LB385 are likely to involve disagreement over social science and theories of human development.

On one hand, both the common experience of humanity and a solid body of evidence demonstrate that the dual-gender unit of husband and wife results in the best developmental outcomes and serves the best interest of children.

On the other hand, proponents of the bills no doubt will cite social science literature that claims no difference; that other, non-marital relationships, including sexual or romantic relationships, are just as good for children. Lawmakers, starting with the members of the Judiciary Committee, will have to decide whether to maintain the status quo or open public policy to experiments involving the lives of vulnerable children.

As directed by Nebraska's three Catholic bishops, the NCC opposition to the bills is grounded in marriage. From the NCC perspective, if it is not possible for a child to be raised by his or her biological parents, then the best placement is in a home with a marriage - husband and wife/father and mother.

Nebraskans concerned about the issues stemming from these bills should contact their legislator, as well as members of the Judiciary Committee. Information is available from the Legislature's website: www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

And finally, on another front ... LB518, which proposes to repeal the 2012 law that authorizes medical assistance for prenatal care for the unborn children of impoverished pregnant women who are not eligible in their own right because of unauthorized immigration status, has been scheduled for a March 21 public hearing. That's the last day of hearings for the session for the Health and Human Services Committee. Let's hope that also will be the end for LB518.

Jim Cunningham is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at jrcncc@neb.rr.com.

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