ACLU of Arkansas Sets the Record Straight on Anti-Gay Adoption and Foster Care Bill Headed to Senate

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
March 12, 2007 12:00 am

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Bill Goes Against 65% of Arkansans’ Opinions

LITTLE ROCK, AR – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas condemns the decision of an Arkansas Senate committee this morning to send to the floor SB 959, a bill that would ban gay people and most unmarried heterosexual couples who live together from adopting or serving as foster parents.

“This bill is bad for our state and our children for many reasons, not the least of which is that it will rob parents of the ability to decide who will care for their children if something happens to them,” said Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “If you want your gay brother or your lesbian aunt to adopt and raise your children if you die, your wishes will be disregarded by the state if this bill passes.”

SB 959, introduced just months after the state Supreme Court unanimously struck down a ban on fostering by gay people, was approved to go to the full Senate this morning by the Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee. If passed, SB 959 would categorically ban lesbian and gay Arkansans from adopting or serving as foster parents, even if they’re relatives of the children in question. It would also ban unmarried heterosexual couples who live together unless they’re related to the child, which could prevent godparents or family friends from caring for a child if the parents die or can’t keep the child.

The ACLU of Arkansas pointed out several other problems with SB 959:

  • The bill goes against the opinions of a majority of Arkansans. According to a 2005 poll of 800 people conducted by the University of Arkansas, 65% said they approved of allowing a lesbian or gay man to adopt a child if the court found that person fit in all other ways to become an adoptive parent.
  • Not a single study has ever shown that having gay or lesbian parents is harmful to children. Social scientists have been studying the ability of same-sex couples to parent for almost three decades and their research has consistently shown that same-sex couples are just as capable of being good parents as straight parents.
  • It is beyond scientific dispute that gay people pose no greater threat than heterosexuals of committing child sexual abuse. This myth has long been disproven by social science research and rejected by every mainstream child welfare and psychological organization.
  • Unlike in Utah and Florida, where SB 959 supporters point to somewhat similar bans, Arkansas is unique in having had a full trial in which the courts heard expert testimony that the scientific evidence on parenting does not support categorical parenting bans. If passed, SB 959 would be found unconstitutional.

“The notion that gay parents are somehow more likely to abuse children in any way not only goes against everything that we in the medical profession know from the scientific evidence and research, but it also goes against my personal experience,” said Dr. Gary Wheeler, a professor of pediatrics in Little Rock who testified against SB 959. “My 15 years of treating children in Arkansas confirms that child sexual abuse happens no more often with lesbian and gay parents than it does with heterosexual parents. This bill is based on stereotypes and ignores the valid research we have on this subject.”

Arkansas’s Child Welfare Agency Review Board had established a policy in 1999 that banned gay people from serving as foster parents, and the Arkansas Supreme Court struck it down after a seven-year legal battle between the state and the ACLU. Several prominent child welfare groups took an interest in the case, with friend-of-the-court briefs being submitted by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers and its Arkansas chapter, the American Psychological Association and its Arkansas chapter, and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. These groups urged the court to strike down the exclusion because it worked against the best interests of foster children.

In overturning the earlier ban, the Arkansas Supreme Court wrote, “(T)he 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.”

More information on the ACLU case that overturned the earlier ban can be found online at:

Selected Findings of Fact Cited by Arkansas Supreme Court in DHS v. Howard, June 29, 2006

  • In its decision in DHS v. Howard unanimously striking down the state regulation banning gay people and people with gay adults living in their homes from serving as foster parents, the Arkansas Supreme Court cited the following findings of fact based on the scientific evidence presented at the trial court:
  • Children of lesbian and gay parents are just as well-adjusted as children of heterosexual parents.
  • Being raised by gay parents doesn’t increase the risk of psychological, behavioral, academic, gender identity, or any other sort of adjustment problems.
  • Being raised by gay parents doesn’t prevent children from forming healthy relationships with their peers and others.
  • There is no factual basis for saying that gay parents might be less able to guide their children through adolescence than heterosexual parents.
  • There is no evidence that gay people, as a group, are more likely to engage in domestic violence or sexual abuse than heterosexual people.

Among the other findings of fact from the earlier circuit court decision:

  • The state allowed gay people to serve as foster parents in Arkansas before the ban and does not know of any child whose health, safety, or welfare have ever been endangered by living with lesbian and gay foster parents.
  • The exclusion of gay people and people with gay family members may be harmful to children because it excludes a pool of effective foster parents.

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