FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LITTLE ROCK, AR - The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas cheered the decision of the Arkansas House Judiciary Committee today to reject SB 959, a bill that would have banned gay people and most unmarried heterosexual couples who live together from adopting or serving as foster parents.
"Child welfare research and scientific evidence have shattered the myth that gay people are not suitable foster parents, and legislators hearing real stories from families who would have been hurt by this bill really brought it home," said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. "The Arkansas legislature realized this is bad policy as well as bad law."
Scores of people crowded into the House Judiciary Committee meeting at the Arkansas State Capitol to observe this morning's hearing. Among those who testified against the bill were:
- Randi Romo and her granddaughter Devon, a lesbian and the teenage honor student she is raising because the girl's mother is chronically ill. Devon wants her grandmother to be able to legally adopt her if her mother dies.
- Shannon Hughes and Shay Stout, a lesbian and the son she and her partner have been raising since he was born 15 years ago. Both feared that the ban would sever their relationship if Stout's biological mother dies.
- Dr. Eddie Ochoa, a pediatrician and the vice president of the Arkansas Academy of Pediatrics, who explained the decades of scientific research showing that gay people make just as good parents as heterosexuals and discussed the many child welfare organizations that are opposed to bans like SB 959.
- Judge Joyce Williams Warren, a circuit judge in Pulaski and Perry counties with 24 years of experience in child and family cases who said that even though the title of the bill purported to be about protecting the children who are most vulnerable, the bill would do the exact opposite.
"For the hundreds of children in our state in need of good homes as well as parents who want the right to decide who should care for their children if something happens to them, the defeat of this bill is a tremendous victory," said Holly Dickson, staff attorney for the ACLU of Arkansas, who testified against the bill this morning. "We're grateful that the House Judiciary Committee saw SB 959 for the unconstitutional, mean-spirited piece of legislation that it was."
Only two people testified in favor of the bill. One of them, Walt McKay, a counselor from Mountain Home, contradicted his own position when he conceded that he was in favor of deciding placements on a case-by-case basis, prompting an eruption of applause from bill opponents.
If passed, the bill would have categorically banned lesbian and gay Arkansans from adopting or serving as foster parents, even if they are relatives of the children in question. It would also have banned unmarried heterosexual couples who live together unless they're related to the child, which would prevent godparents or family friends from caring for a child if the parents die or can't keep the child.
Arkansas's Child Welfare Agency Review Board had established a policy in 1999 that banned gay people from serving as foster parents, and the Arkansas Supreme Court struck it down last year after a seven-year legal battle between the state and the ACLU. Several prominent child welfare groups took an interest in the case, with friend-of-the-court briefs being submitted by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers and its Arkansas chapter, the American Psychological Association and its Arkansas chapter, and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. These groups urged the court to strike down the exclusion because it worked against the best interests of foster children.
In overturning the earlier ban, the Arkansas Supreme Court wrote, "(T)he driving force behind adoption of the regulation was not to promote the health, safety, and welfare of foster children, but rather based upon the Board's view of morality and its bias against homosexuals."
More information on the ACLU case that overturned the earlier ban can be found online at: www.aclu.org/lgbt/parenting/12137res20050301.html