Lawyers for four Arkansas residents who want to serve as foster parents are due in court this week to fight a five-year-old rule that bars them from raising wards of the state because someone in their house is gay. The Child Welfare Agency Review Board imposed the rule in March 1999 and was sued a month later. A judge has set aside Tuesday through Friday to hear the case without a jury.
At issue is whether someone should automatically be excluded from being a foster parent because that person or someone in the home is gay or lesbian. Only Nebraska has a similar ban. Arkansas's child welfare board imposed the 1999 ban after one of its members argued that children were better off being raised in a home with a mother and a father. A similar argument was raised during a 2001 hearing in which legislators refused to elevate the policy to state law and extend the ban to adoption.
"The best environment for a child is biological parents," Robert Rice, a Little Rock psychiatrist, said at the time. "The traditional family is the gold standard." He testified that children need male and female adults in the house to learn how to behave toward others, arguing that boys who grow up without a male figure in the household are more likely to commit crimes.
The American Civil Liberties Union says the state ban is based on stereotypes that are not grounded in science or social research. "The state has claimed that gay people are incapable of being good parents, that children are better off with a mother and a father, that gay people are more likely to commit child sex abuse, expose children to domestic violence, and spread HIV to the foster children in their care," it said in a statement Friday.
Suing the state are two gay men from Little Rock, a lesbian from Fayetteville and a heterosexual Waldron man whose gay son sometimes lives at home. They say the review board's decision violates their rights to privacy and equal protection guaranteed by the Arkansas and U.S. constitutions.
Under the ban, the welfare board imposes an "ask, but you don't have to tell" policy. Arkansas Department of Human Services case workers ask prospective foster parents if they are gay or lesbian. If the potential parents say they're not, the department is to take them at their word. The ban covers only foster children; there is no similar law or rule banning full adoptions by gays. The ACLU said that Nebraska is the only other state to bar gay foster parents and that Florida bans adoptions by any homosexual, while Mississippi bans adoptions by gay couples.