Arkansas deems gay foster ban unconstitutional

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The Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday that there is no connection between a child’s well-being and the sexual orientation of a parent, deeming discrimination against gay households in foster care unconstitutional.

The ruling, which upholds a 2004 lower court decision against the ban, said the ban was “an attempt to legislate for the General Assembly with respect to public morality.”

Justices agreed with Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox’s ruling that the ban seeks to regulate “public morality.” And the high court said the state Child Welfare Agency Review Board in adopting the ban violated the separation of powers doctrine.

“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,” Associate Justice Donald Corbin wrote in the opinion.

In 1999, the Arkansas Child Welfare Agency Review Board adopted a regulation barring private child welfare agencies and the state Department of Human Services from allowing gay and lesbian people to serve as foster parents.

“Children in foster care deserve to be placed in good homes without discriminatory politics standing in the way,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese in a media statement issued yesterday. “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.”

Arkansas Health and Human Services spokeswoman Julie Munsell told the Associated Press that the state has followed Fox’s direction not to use the ban and will continue to do so.

“We still obviously maintain that we are operating in the best interest of the children who are in foster care custody, but we will follow the instructions of the court in the application process,” Ms Munsell said.

“Today’s ruling means that gay people will go through the same screening process as any other applicants, rather than be automatically rejected no matter how qualified they are,” said Leslie Cooper, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, who argued the case before the court.

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