Trial Concludes in ACLU Challenge to Arkansas Anti-Gay Foster Care Ban

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
December 20, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU of Arkansas
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LITTLE ROCK – Trial concluded this morning in the American Civil Liberties Union’s challenge to an Arkansas regulation that bans gay people and anyone living in a household with a gay adult from being foster parents in the state.

“The many children in the Arkansas foster care system deserve the chance to have the widest possible pool of loving, stable homes available to them,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “Reducing the number of possible foster parents when scientific research shows that same-sex couples make fine parents only results in more children being placed in foster homes hundreds of miles from their families, being separated from their siblings, or left in institutions because foster homes can’t be found for them.”

The ACLU brought the lawsuit against the state in 1999 on behalf of three prospective foster parents who charged that the policy violates the equal protection guarantees of the state and federal constitutions. The trial, which began in March but was delayed after one of the state’s witnesses died in an automobile accident, concluded today with the testimony of Dr. Pepper Schwartz.

Throughout the trial the ACLU brought a variety of renowned experts to disprove the state’s claims in defending the regulation:

  • Dr. Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and a nationally recognized expert on couples and relationships, showed the court scientific research disproving the state’s claim that same-sex couples have unstable relationships and are therefore unfit to serve as foster parents.
  • Dr. Michael Lamb, a developmental psychologist from Cambridge University in England who until recently was a senior research scientist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, testified that children raised by gay parents are just as well-adjusted as other children.
  • Dr. Fred Berlin, the director of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma and a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who is an expert on sexual disorders, refuted the state’s assertion that gay people are more likely to sexually abuse children.
  • Dr. Rebecca Martin, who directs the infectious diseases clinics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, disproved the state’s claim that children living in homes with gay people are at greater risk of contracting HIV and other diseases.
  • Dr. Susan Cochran, an epidemiologist from the University of California at Los Angeles, showed scientific evidence that gay people are no more likely to be substance abusers than straight people.
  • Judith Faust, a professor of social work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and former head of the Arkansas Department of Children and Family Services, testified that blanket exclusions like the one being challenged reduce the pool of qualified foster parents and prevent caseworkers from placing some children with the families best suited for their needs.

“We’re relieved that this trial is finally coming to a close and that the court will now be able to decide whether there is any truth to the state’s insulting characterization of gay people,” said Leslie Cooper, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “Throughout this trial, the Child Welfare Agency Review Board has relied on hackneyed myths about lesbian and gay people that have no scientific basis, and we’ve presented plenty of evidence that proves them wrong on every one of them.”

In its lawsuit, the ACLU represents three 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 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, and his partner Craig Stoopes, a librarian, live in Little Rock and have been in a committed relationship for 19 years. The couple 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 ACLU’s post-trial brief in the case is available online at /node/36264.

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