Proposed law would also exclude unmarried straight couples; sponsor hopes to add clause making bill effective when signed
LITTLE ROCK Gov. Mike Beebe said a bill banning gays and unmarried couples from serving as foster parents or adopting children in Arkansas faces constitutional problems.
The bill moved out of the Senate on Wednesday, March 21, but its sponsor acknowledged it could face a challenge in the House.
“There are constitutional problems with it,” Beebe told reporters at a news conference Wednesday. Beebe would not say what problems he saw with the legislation.
Meanwhile, senators sent a bill to Beebe allowing him to put a $575 million bond package before voters to fix the state’s highways. A joint legislative committee also endorsed about 400 bills funding projects around Arkansas out of the state surplus.
Sen. Shawn Womack, R-Mountain Home, asked for the Senate to release the foster ban bill to the House. Womack, the bill’s sponsor, had tried twice to attach an emergency clause to the bill to make it effective immediately upon becoming law.
But as the session nears an end, Womack said he “didn’t want to lose the whole bill” just to get three months. Without the emergency clause, the bill would take effect in 90 days if it becomes law.
The Senate passed the measure to the House on a voice vote Wednesday, with Sen. Jim Argue, D-Little Rock, offering a loud “no.” Womack said he didn’t know if the bill had a sponsor in the House, but acknowledged it could face a tough fight in the House judiciary committee.
“I don’t think it belongs there,” Womack said. “If they send it to the judiciary, then the speaker has a problem with it.”
A survey Wednesday by The Associated Press of the 20-member House committee showed the bill had uncertain support. Of the 12 surveyed, five members said they likely would vote no, while six remained undecided or declined to comment. Only Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, said he would vote for the bill.
Those opposing it on the panel include Rep. Kathy Webb, the only openly gay member of the Legislature.
“I think it flies in the face of all the reputable body of evidence that has been presented,” said Webb, D-Little Rock. “I don’t think it has the best interest of the children at heart.”
Rep. Aaron Burkes, R-Lowell, said he was undecided about the ban and said he wished parts of it were written differently.
“If I were crafting the bill, I would probably craft it differently,” Burkes said.
“The numbers I’m hearing are that it’s not going to pass out of there.”
Rep. Steve Harrelson, D-Texarkana, said he’s against the proposal as it’s written. Harrelson said he believed many members of the committee would likely not vote on the measure at all.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of people walk out rather than vote on it,” Harrelson said.
The bill would put into law a ban on gay foster parents that was state policy when it was struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court last year. Beebe has said he would support reinstating the ban if it were constitutional, but he has not said whether he would sign Womack’s bill if it comes to his desk.
Beebe has said that his statements last year supporting a ban on gay foster parents did not include banning them from adopting children.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2007