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The Arkansas supreme court on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling that said gays and lesbians cannot be barred from the state's foster care system. The unanimous decision ended a seven-year legal battle by the American Civil Liberties Union against an antigay policy established in 1999 by Arkansas's Child Welfare Agency Review Board.
Pointing to the findings of a lower court that overturned the ban, the court criticized the Child Welfare Agency Review Board's reasons for enacting the regulation, writing, "These facts demonstrate that there is no correlation between the health, welfare, and safety of foster children and the blanket exclusion of any individual who is a homosexual or who resides in a household with a homosexual."
The court went on to say that the state's argument to the contrary "flies in the face" of the scientific evidence about the suitability of lesbian and gay people as foster parents. The court added that "the driving force behind adoption of the regulation was not to promote the health, safety, and welfare of foster children but rather based upon the board's view of morality and its bias against homosexuals."
"The Arkansas supreme court clearly understood what social scientists and every respected child welfare organization have been saying for years: There is no reason to deprive children of good homes by excluding lesbian and gay people from serving as foster parents," said Rita Sklar, executive director for the ACLU of Arkansas. "We have a shortage of foster homes in Arkansas, especially for teenagers and sibling groups. Thanks to today's ruling, Arkansas's foster children have a better chance of finding loving homes."
The Child Welfare Agency's policy stated 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 a lesbian from Fayetteville, a gay couple from Little Rock, and a heterosexual man from Waldron whose gay son sometimes lives at home. All of them want to serve as foster parents but are automatically disqualified from doing so by the ban.
"The Arkansas supreme court has ruled that all children in foster care deserve to be placed in good homes without discriminatory politics standing in the way," said Joe Solmonese, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. "Every child welfare organization has said for years that sexual orientation has no impact on a person's ability to be a good parent. We give enormous thanks to the plaintiffs in this case and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented these families. Their stories and seven-year fight for fairness have likely resulted in hundreds of potential homes opening up for children in need."
Solmonese continued, "The tide is turning toward fairness for all families. This year, the two states to ban foster parenting for gay parents have had to face sound science and reverse their politically charged and discriminatory policies. With Missouri and now Arkansas moving toward fairness for foster children, there are no explicit restrictions on foster parenting by gay parents." (The Advocate)