March 23, 2004


LITTLE ROCK - Trial opens today in the American Civil Liberties Union's challenge to an Arkansas policy that prevents gay people and anyone living in a household with a gay adult from being foster parents in the state.  The trial will be held in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County.

""By enacting a policy that bars gay people from being foster parents, the Child Welfare Agency Review Board has sacrificed the interests of foster children in order to make a misguided political statement against gay people,"" said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas.  ""This trial will expose that hypocrisy for exactly what it is.""

The ACLU brought a lawsuit against the board in 1999 on behalf of four prospective foster parents, charging that the policy violates the equal protection guarantees of the state and federal constitutions.  

The state relied on a series of shopworn, unscientific stereotypes about gay people to support the ban on foster parenting.   For instance, the state claimed that children are always better off with a mother and a father, and that gay people are more likely to commit child sex abuse, expose children to domestic violence and spread HIV to foster children.   

The ACLU will be calling renowned experts to expose the futility of the state's claims.  Chief among those experts will be Dr. Michael Lamb, a developmental psychologist who is the head of the Section on Social and Emotional Development at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.  Dr. Lamb's testimony will be based on 50 years of research on children's adjustment including research conducted over the past 25 years that specifically looks at gay parents and their children.  Lamb will address distortions of the research often put out by anti-gay advocacy organizations.  

The ACLU will also be calling noted specialists to refute the state's charge that gay people are more likely to commit child sex abuse or domestic violence or spread HIV to children in their care.

""Policy affecting the lives of Arkansas' foster children should be based on what's best for the children, not baseless myths,"" said Leslie Cooper, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.  ""This ban flies in the face of years of sound research on the children of gay parents and the positions of every national child welfare organization.""

In its lawsuit the ACLU represents four 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 and Craig Stoopes of Little Rock.  Howard, a counselor, and Stoopes, who works in a library, have been in a committed relationship for 19 years.  Howard and Stoopes 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.

The trial is expected to last two days.  Cooper and James Esseks of the ACLU's LGBT Rights Project, Grif Stockley of the ACLU of Arkansas, and cooperating attorneys David Ivers and Emily Sneddon represent the plaintiffs.

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