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Arkansas Judge Overturns Adoption Ban

Arkansas Judge Overturns Adoption Ban

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A circuit court judge in Arkansas's Pulaski County has overturned the statewide ban on unmarried couples living together--including same-sex couples -- adopting or fostering children.

Act 1, which was approved by voters in 2008, was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several families.

"As of now, gay and unmarried couples are able to apply to adopt or foster children [in Arkansas]," says Christine Sun, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs and member of the ACLU's LGBT project. "We're encouraging the plaintiffs to begin that process."

The state hasn't yet moved for a stay of the judge's opinion but that doesn't mean it won't, Sun says.

In his two-page ruling issued Friday afternoon, circuit court judge Chris Piazza said people in "non-marital relationships" are forced to choose between becoming a parent and maintaining a relationship with their partner -- single people can still foster and adopt children in Arkansas. Piazza added that the ban cast "an unreasonably broad net" and did not serve the state's interest. "It infringes upon the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed to all citizens of Arkansas," he wrote.

The judge also believed the law unduly limited the pool of suitable foster and adoptive parents and did not serve the interests of children who need homes in Arkansas, Sun says.

Plaintiffs involved in the case, which challenged Act 1's constitutionality, included a lesbian couple, two gay male couples, three children in foster care, and two married heterosexual couples who had designated in their will that gay couples be their children's adoptive parents in the event of their death.

"They argued that Act 1 violated their rights as parents to make decisions for their children," Sun says.

State assistant attorney general Joe Cordi argued that Amendment 1 "protects children from neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and... the very lives of children." In court arguments last week, Cordi cited studies showing that children raised in traditional family settings, with heterosexual, married parents, are less likely to suffer abuse or death, than those living in single-parent homes where the parent is co-habiting, according to the Arkansas News.

The Family Council Action Committee campaigned for Act 1's passage. Bryan Babione, an Arizona attorney representing the organization, said that the case should not have even gone to trial.

"You don't lose the race ... and then say, I want a do-over," he said according to the report. "We're not dealing with a fundamental right nor are we dealing with a suspect class."

Sun believes Arkansas and the FCAC will appeal the decision, which will lead to a showdown in the Arkansas supreme court. Sun said that court is known to be fair--it overturned a ban on sodomy before the U.S. Supreme Court did in 2003's Lawrence v. Texas, and also ended an outright ban on gay adoption--single or partnered--in Arkansas before Act 1 passed.

The Arkansas decision could affect Florida's ban on gay adoption--in 2008 a Miami judge ruled a gay father could continue to raise his foster children, and a decision is pending on the state's challenge of the Miami ruling in the third district court of appeals.
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