ACLU Challenges Arkansas Policy Banning Gay and Lesbian Foster Parents

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
April 6, 1999 12:00 am

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LITTLE ROCK, AR — In a state where the foster care system is in crisis, the American Civil Liberties Union today challenged a new policy prohibiting qualified gays and lesbians — and any heterosexuals who live with them — from serving as foster parents.

ancery court on behalf of six prospective foster parents, including a gay couple with two adopted children and a heterosexual married man who is barred from foster parenting because his 18-year-old son, who lives at home, is gay.

The policy was adopted by the state’s Child Welfare Agency Review Board, which the ACLU is suing along with the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

In its legal complaint, the ACLU is charging that the policy conflicts with existing agency and state law directives to find foster homes that are “in the best interest of the child.” The ACLU is also charging violations of its clients’ rights to equal protection, privacy, and intimate association under the state and federal constitutions.

“Sadly, the real victims of this policy are the children who desperately need foster parents,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas, appearing with ACLU clients at a press conference today in Little Rock.

“Right now, we are facing a shortage of foster parents under a system in such disarray that it is under court supervision to improve services for children,” she added. “But the board’s irrational response is to limit even further that rare group of people willing to take traumatized and abused children into their homes.”

Joined by child care experts and members of the clergy, Sklar testified at board hearings and provided officials with a wealth of respected social science research, all of which concludes that being raised by gay parents has no harmful effect on a child’s development.

But in passing the policy, the board rejected these findings, relying instead on the widely discredited “junk science” of Paul Cameron, a psychologist whose bogus research has been rejected in federal court and uniformly spurned by the professional community.

“The fact that the review board relied on Cameron’s research to pass this policy reveals a lot about the forces at work here,” said Michael Adams, Associate Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and an attorney in the case. “The reasons behind this policy are the same as those behind policies that once prohibited racial minorities and disabled people from adopting and serving as foster parents — fear, misunderstanding and personal bias.”

Adams noted that Cameron was dropped from membership in the American Psychological Association in 1984 for ethical violations concerning his biased research. That same year, the Psychological Association in his home state of Nebraska adopted a formal resolution disassociating itself from Cameron’s work. And in 1985, a federal judge concluded that Cameron had engaged in “fraud” and “misrepresentation” when he testified in a gay-related case in Texas.

In contrast, an analysis of more than 50 published studies conducted by the Child Welfare League of America, the nation’s oldest and largest children’s advocacy organization, led the group to conclude that “children are not compromised in any way by having gay or lesbian parents.”

Other groups with policies categorically opposing a ban on lesbian and gay adoption and foster care include the American Psychological Association and the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

The individuals challenging the Arkansas policy are:

— Steven Sands, 37, and Samuel Stricklin, 35, of Eureka Springs. Sands, a teacher, and Stricklin, a sales manager and wedding coordinator, have been together for 12 years and are the parents of two children, ages 6 and 2, whom they have adopted. They hope to serve as foster parents.

— Matthew Lee Howard, 39, and Craig Stoopes, 49, of Little Rock. Howard, a minister, and Stoopes, a librarian, have been in a committed relationship for 14 years. They hope to serve as foster parents.

— Anne Shelley, 36, of Fayetteville. Shelley, a community organizer for various non-profit organizations, is single and a lesbian. She hopes to serve as a foster parent.

– William Wagner, 45, of Fayetteville. Wagner, who works in an optical laboratory, has been married for 26 years and has a 22-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old gay son. Wagner and his wife, who have provided emergency shelter to gay teens, hope to serve as foster parents in the near future.

“These individuals stand ready to provide loving attention and care to the state’s many foster children, including hard-to-place teens and those with illnesses or disabilities,” said Sklar. “The only thing standing between needy kids and the people willing to care for them is a biased and mean-spirited policy.”

According to news reports, Arkansas has about 2,600 children placed in 700 foster homes across the state.

The six plaintiffs are represented by Adams and Leslie Cooper of the ACLU’s National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and Richard Rosen, a volunteer attorney in private practice in Little Rock.

The case is Sands et al v. Child Welfare Agency Review Board.

Note to editors: The ACLU’s legal complaint, as well as fact sheets on lesbian and gay foster parenting and the Arkansas policy, are available online at

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