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Arkansas lawmakers reject antigay adoption bill

Arkansas lawmakers reject antigay adoption bill

A ban on adoptions or foster parenting by unmarried adults living together in a sexual relationship has been rejected by an Arkansas senate committee. The bill originally targeted gays for exclusion from parenting wards of the state but was amended and passed in the house to ban any adult "who is cohabiting in a relationship that is not a legally valid and binding marriage" under the state constitution. Since a vote in November, the state constitution defines marriage as only a union between a man and a woman. The senate judiciary committee defeated the measure Wednesday on a voice vote after nearly two hours of testimony from supporters, who argued it would help assure that children are placed in stable homes, and opponents, who warned against limiting the pool of potential homes for children in state custody. Republican senator Gilbert Baker, who presented the bill to the committee for the house sponsor, Democrat Bob Adams, said he would talk to committee members and Adams before deciding whether to try for another vote. "If there is some way we can alleviate their concerns, we will try. If we think we've made some progress, we'll come back," Baker said after the vote. Single gays still would be allowed to adopt a child or serve as a foster parent under the revised legislation, but the bill would make law what is now state department of human services policy against allowing cohabiting couples to be foster parents. Its proposed ban also would apply to private adoptions as well as to adoptions of children in state custody. The bill would make an exception for cohabiting adults who are relatives of the children by blood or marriage. "I want to make sure we do all we can to have the most stable environment possible for those children," Baker told the committee. "Cohabitating homes can be some of the most unstable for children, who need a stable environment." John Thomas of the Family Council, a Christian-based education and research group, cited statistics showing children were 33 times more likely to be abused and women more than 73 times more likely to be hurt in a cohabiting environment than in a home with a married couple. Thomas argued for shoring up a policy that prohibits the state from creating families with unstable environments. "The state can only create with the willing," said Democratic senator Jim Luker, the committee cochairman. "What happens when there are not enough willing?" "The goal is not just to find willing people, but to find optimal homes," Thomas said. "Don't remove the barriers just to find a willing home. Do what you can to raise awareness." Democratic senator Sue Madison complained that the bill "would allow a single person to have a parade of sexual partners and still be a foster parent." Said Luker: "There are married situations that are unstable. Why is not [what's in] the best interest of the child the standard?" Medical and psychological professionals who specialize in serving children warned against limiting the pool of prospective homes when there are too few good homes as it is for troubled children with special needs. Judith Faust, a social work instructor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a former director of the human services department's division of children and family services, said individual planning and serving the best interest of the child are key to successful placements of children. Adams's bill would not further those principles, she said. "Let the professionals at DHS do their work," she said. (AP)

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