ACLU Resumes Challenge to Arkansas Anti-Gay Foster Care Policy

October 5, 2004

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Trial Will Expose State's Reliance on Anti-Gay Stereotypes

LITTLE ROCK - After a six-month delay, the American Civil Liberties Union's challenge to an Arkansas policy that prevents lesbian and gay people and anyone living in a household with a gay adult from being foster parents will resume today in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County with a new expert witness for the state.

""The state has put up nothing but outdated, baseless myths to justify denying Arkansas's foster children potential homes,"" said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas.  ""There may be a new witness taking the stand, but the state is going to be singing the same old song.""

The trial began in March but was cut short after the state's only expert witness was killed in a car crash before he could testify.  After being given time to find another witness, the state chose Dr. George A. Rekers, a founder of the Family Research Council well known for his religiously based, anti-gay views who admits to relying on the discredited research of anti-gay extremist Paul Cameron and practices ""conversion therapy"" that attempts to ""cure"" gay people.  

The ACLU first brought the lawsuit against the Arkansas Child Welfare Agency Review Board in 1999 on behalf of a group of prospective foster parents, charging that the policy violates the equal protection guarantees of the state and federal constitutions.  Throughout the case, the state has relied on unsupported negative stereotypes about gay people to defend the ban.  For example, the state has claimed that gay people are more likely to commit child sex abuse, expose children to domestic violence, and spread HIV to foster children.   

""The state is relying on the testimony of someone whose extreme views about gay people are based on ideology, not science,"" said Leslie Cooper, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.  ""Child welfare policy should be based on reality, not myth.  Decades of social science research have shown that lesbian and gay people are just as able to provide loving, stable homes to children as heterosexual people.""

During the first part of the trial in March, the ACLU called several renowned experts to disprove the state's claims, including Dr. Michael Lamb, who until recently was the head of the Section on Social and Emotional Development at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and is now a professor of psychology at Cambridge University in England.  Lamb is expected to return to the stand today to refute Rekers's testimony.  

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.

Cooper and James Esseks of the ACLU's Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, Grif Stockley of the ACLU of Arkansas, and cooperating attorneys David Ivers and Emily Sneddon represent the plaintiffs.

More information about Rekers can be found here: /cpredirect/12401

A case backgrounder is available here: /cpredirect/12402

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