Arkansas Anti-Gay Foster Care Ban Overturned

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
December 29, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU of Arkansas
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LITTLE ROCK – – Finding that children are not harmed by living with gay or lesbian parents, an Arkansas court today struck down a state regulation that banned gay people and anyone living in a household with a gay adult from being foster parents in the state. The American Civil Liberties Union brought the lawsuit against the state in 1999 on behalf of three prospective foster parents.

“Throughout this case, the state has relied on ugly stereotypes to deny children in the Arkansas foster care system the chance of having the widest possible pool of foster families available to them,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “We’re very pleased that the court saw through these arguments and has recognized that gay and lesbian people can provide homes just as loving and stable as anyone else’s.”

In his findings, Circuit Court Judge Timothy Fox flatly rejected many of the claims the state had made about gay and lesbian people’s suitability as parents. In his decision, Fox wrote: “(Psychology pioneer) Jerome Bruner has suggested that one of the reasons people believe in our system of justice may be as simple as ‘our faith that confrontation is a good way to get to the bottom of things.’ The ‘confrontation’ in this case has presented us all with an excellent opportunity to replace ignorance with knowledge and to make an informed decision based on information as opposed to assumption.”

Among Judge Fox’s findings of fact:

  • Being raised by gay parents doesn’t increase the risk of psychological, behavioral, or academic problems for children.
  • Children of lesbian and gay parents are just as well adjusted as children of straight parents.
  • There is no factual basis for saying that heterosexual parents might be better able to guide children through adolescence than gay parents.
  • There are no reasons that health, safety, or welfare of a foster child might be negatively impacted by living in a foster home where there is a gay person present.
  • The blanket exclusion can hurt children by excluding a pool of effective foster parents.

“Throughout the trial we presented a variety of experts who proved that the state’s justifications for this ban were nothing but baseless myths about gay people,” said Leslie Cooper, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “This is a victory not only for gay families, but for the many children in the Arkansas foster care system who now have a better shot at finding a good home.”

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 three Arkansans who are challenging the ban:

  • William Wagner of Waldron, who works in an optical laboratory. Wagner has been married for 31 years and has two adult children. Although he 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 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, a teacher, who lives with his partner Craig Stoopes, a librarian, in Little Rock. The couple has been in a committed relationship for 19 years, is currently raising two children, and hopes to serve as foster parents.
  • Anne Shelley of Fayetteville is a community organizer for various non-profit organizations and would like to serve as a foster parent. She is prevented from doing so under Arkansas law because she is a lesbian.

Leslie 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 prospective foster parents.

The decision can be read online at: /node/36265

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