Law Barring Same-Sex And Unmarried Couples From Adopting And Fostering Ruled Unconstitutional By Lower Court
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The American Civil Liberties Union today asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling striking down a law that bans any unmarried person who lives with a partner, including those in same-sex relationships, from serving as an adoptive or foster parent in the state of Arkansas. In April, the Pulaski County Circuit Court found that the law, known as Act 1, did not serve the state’s interest in determining what is best for children. The state of Arkansas is challenging the circuit court’s ruling.
“This law denies Arkansas’ foster children the chance to find loving homes,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “There are over 1600 children in state care who need families. Act 1 eliminated qualified parents who could provide these children with the stability they desperately need.”
The ACLU filed its complaint against Act 1 in December 2008. Plaintiffs participating in the case included three teenagers in state care who are awaiting placement with a foster or adoptive family, a lesbian couple who adopted an Arkansas foster child before Act 1 was passed and would like to open their home to another special-needs child, a grandmother who was barred by Act 1 from adopting her own grandchild and several married heterosexual couples who are prohibited by Act 1 from arranging for certain friends or relatives to adopt their children if they die or become incapacitated.
“Before Act 1 was passed, my partner and I became the proud parents of a wonderful special-needs child through the Arkansas child welfare system,” said Wendy Rickman, who, along with her partner of 11 years, Stephanie Huffman, is represented in the case. “For this law to deny us the opportunity to apply to adopt another child in need after we have proven ourselves to be good parents is cruel and unjust. We’re confident the Supreme Court will recognize that excluding parents like us hurts kids in Arkansas.”
Act 1 does not prevent single people who live alone from adopting or fostering children in Arkansas, and does not bar unmarried cohabiting couples from serving as guardians. The ACLU’s brief states that the law serves no purpose other than to exclude qualified foster and adoptive applicants, with a particular unfounded and unlawful prejudice against same-sex couples. The ACLU’s brief points out that the Arkansas Supreme Court, ruling in a 2006 case that struck down a law explicitly banning gay people from serving as foster parents, found that there is absolutely no connection between a person’s sexual orientation and their ability to parent.
“This law presented an extreme and baseless intrusion into the private relationships of individuals and families in violation of the Arkansas Constitution’s right to privacy,” said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. “The court should place the needs of Arkansas’ most vulnerable children first and affirm the lower court’s ruling striking down this discriminatory law.”
Friend-of-the-court briefs in support of repealing the ban have been filed by a number of major child welfare organizations – including the Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Child Welfare League of America and the Center for Adoption Policy – constitutional law professors and law school deans in Arkansas, and civil rights organizations, including Lambda Legal, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
Attorneys on the case include Marie-Bernarde Miller and Daniel J. Beck of Williams & Anderson PLC, on behalf of the ACLU of Arkansas; Sun, Leslie Cooper and Rose Saxe of the ACLU; and Garrard R. Beeney, Stacey R. Friedman, Stephen Ehrenberg, Emma Gilmore, Christopher Diffee, Taly Dvorkis, Angelica Sinopole and Jared A. Bennett Feiger of Sullivan and Cromwell.
The ACLU’s brief can be found here: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/arkansas-v-cole-cross-appellants-brief
More on this case can be found here: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights_hiv-aids/cole-v-arkansas-case-profile
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