Howard v. Arkansas - Case Background

Document Date: October 4, 2004
Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas

Howard v. Child Welfare Agency Review Board Case Background

In Howard v. Arkansas, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union represents three prospective foster parents in challenging a law that bars gay people and people in households with gay family members from foster parenting.

After Arkansas’s Child Welfare Agency Review Board established a policy in 1999 that “no person may serve as a foster parent if any adult member of that person’s household is a homosexual,” the ACLU filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the policy on behalf of a several Arkansans who are willing to serve as foster parents but are barred from doing so by the regulation.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in April 1999, the ACLU charges that the policy violates the right to equal protection under the federal and state constitutions. A trial in the case began on March 23, 2004 but was suspended after the state’s expert witness was killed in an automobile accident. The case is scheduled to resume on October 5, 2004.

Throughout the case, the state has relied on a number of harmful stereotypes and myths about gay people to support the ban on foster parenting. When the trial resumes, the state is planning to call Dr. George Rekers, one of the founders of the Family Research Council who has published a number of books expressing his religious beliefs condemning homosexuality. A quote from one of his books, Growing Up Straight, provides insight into how his religious beliefs influence his professional opinions: “The clear teaching of Scripture, uncontradicted by psychological research, is that homosexual actions are sinful.” Unsurprisingly, Dr. Rekers practices “conversion therapy” that attempts to “cure” gay people.

Rekers is expected to argue, among other things, that the ban should stand because gay people are incapable of being good parents, that children need a mother and a father to develop healthily, that gay people are unable to develop stable relationships and that gay people are more likely to be sick with HIV/AIDS and therefore unable to parent.

The ACLU will have an opportunity to expose these myths and stereotypes for exactly what they are. The ACLU’s chief expert will be Dr. Michael Lamb, until recently the head of the Section on Social and Emotional Development at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and now a professor of psychology at Cambridge University in England. He will refute Rekers’s biased opinions and testify that gay people are just as capable of being good parents as heterosexuals and their children suffer no harmful effects.

Dr. Lamb’s testimony about parenting by gay people will be based on half a century of research on children’s adjustment by respected psychologists, including research conducted over the past twenty years that specifically looks at gay parents and their children.

Lamb will address distortions of the research often put out by anti-gay advocacy organizations. For additional information about the studies on gay parents and their children, see the parenting section of the Get Equal toolkit, or the ACLU book, Too High A Price.

In its lawsuit the ACLU represents three Arkansans who are challenging the ban:

  • William Wagner of Waldron, who works in an optical laboratory, has been married for 31 years and has a 27-year-old daughter and a 23-year-old son. Although Wagner is a married heterosexual, he is disqualified from serving as a foster parent because his gay son sometimes lives at home. Wagner and his wife hope to serve as foster parents because they already provide emergency shelter to gay teens who have been physically abused and kicked out of their homes for being lesbian or gay and would like to be available to take care of teens in the foster care system.
  • Matthew Lee Howard of Little Rock. Howard, a teacher, and his partner Craig Stoopes, a librarian, have been in a committed relationship for 19 years, are raising two children, and hope to serve as foster parents.
  • Anne Shelley of Fayetteville. Shelley, a community organizer for various non-profit organizations, is a lesbian and would like to serve as a foster parent.

The trial will take place at the Pulaski County Court House in Little Rock.

Leslie Cooper and James Esseks of the ACLU’s LGBT Rights Project, Grif Stockley of the ACLU of Arkansas, and cooperating attorneys David Ivers and Emily Sneddon represent the plaintiffs.