LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas - December 19 - Joined by an array of national child advocacy organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief today asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to uphold an earlier court decision striking 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 trial court had found that living with gay or lesbian parents doesn’t harm children.
“This anti-gay foster parenting ban goes against the recommendation of every major children’s health and welfare organization in the country,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “These experts understand all too well how this policy hurts the many children in Arkansas in need of safe, stable homes.”
The lawsuit was filed against the state in 1999 on behalf of four prospective foster parents. In addition to today’s brief from the ACLU, several other groups have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in the case, including the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers and its Arkansas chapter, and the American Psychological Association.
“One thing that the proponents of this policy can’t seem to explain is, ‘How do they expect the state to find homes for the children in Arkansas who need foster care when you diminish the already small pool of potential parents?’” said Rob Woronoff, a program manager with the Child Welfare League of America. “Policymakers should heed the advice of the child welfare professionals who know that the best way to meet the needs of foster children is to assess all prospective parents on a case-by-case basis.”
Four friend-of-the-court briefs, representing a broad range of support for ending the foster care ban, were filed today in support of the ACLU’s lawsuit. These included:
- A brief signed by the Child Welfare League of America and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute explaining how all major child welfare organizations oppose categorical bans like the one in Arkansas because they deprive children of qualified caregivers.
- A brief signed by the American Psychological Association, the Arkansas Psychological Association, and the National Association of Social Workers and its Arkansas chapter detailing over two decades of social science research showing that gay people are equally capable parents who raise healthy children and that these facts are well-established and accepted in the scientific community.
- A brief from an assortment of Arkansas law professors and religious leaders explaining that basing government discrimination against a group of people on nothing but moral disapproval is not a legitimate basis for the government to disadvantage a group and that different religious groups have diverse moral views about lesbian and gay people.
- A brief from Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere; Lambda Legal; Arkansas Stonewall Democrats; Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays; the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; and Human Rights Campaign explaining how the U.S. Supreme Court thinks courts should handle cases involving government acts that penalize people for exercising the right to form intimate relationships with same-sex partners.
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.” That same year, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the policy on behalf of four Arkansans:
- William Wagner of Waldron, who has now been married for 31 years and has two adult children but is disqualified from serving as a foster parent because his gay son sometimes lives at home;
- Matthew Lee Howard of Little Rock, a teacher and father of two, and Craig Stoopes, a librarian, who have been in a committed relationship for 20 years now and hope to serve as foster parents but are prohibited from doing so because they are gay; and
- Anne Shelley of Fayetteville, a nonprofit organizer who would like to serve as a foster parent but is prevented from doing so under Arkansas law because she is a lesbian.
“The trial judge found that the evidence overwhelmingly showed there is no merit at all in this regulation and that blanket exclusions do nothing to advance the welfare of foster children,” said Leslie Cooper, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “The state is relying on nothing but baseless, negative stereotypes about lesbian and gay people to put politics before the needs of children.”
In a landmark ruling last year, a Circuit Court judge flatly rejected all of the claims the state had made about gay and lesbian people’s suitability as parents. After five days of expert testimony, the judge found that the foster care ban can hurt children by eliminating a pool of effective foster parents, that children of lesbian and gay parents are just as well adjusted as children of straight parents, and that 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.
Leslie Cooper and James Esseks of the ACLU’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, Grif Stockley of the ACLU of Arkansas, and cooperating attorney David Ivers represent the prospective foster parents.
More information on the case, Howard v. Child Welfare Agency Review Board, can be found online at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles.