Arkansas Supreme court to review gay foster parent case

Posted on 20 Jan 2006 at 12:01pm
By Peggy Harris – Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK The state Supreme Court said Thursday it will consider written arguments from numerous national and state mental health, legal and gay rights groups in deciding whether gay men and lesbians can serve as foster parents in Arkansas.

A state judge said in 2004 that it was unconstitutional for the Child Welfare Agency Review Board to bar gay men and lesbians from serving as foster parents. Justices on Thursday accepted four friend-of-the-court briefs filed on behalf of 18 groups wishing to weigh in.

The briefs expand on scientific, legal and social issues raised during a trial held before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox.

The child welfare board instituted the ban in March 1999, saying children should be in traditional two-parent homes because they are more likely to thrive in that environment.

Four Arkansans sued, saying gay men and lesbians who otherwise qualified as foster parents had been discriminated against. They contended the ban violated their right to privacy and equal protection under the state and U.S. constitutions.

One brief, filed on behalf of Bishop Larry E. Maze of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas and others, agreed with the judge’s decision but took exception to his finding that moral disapproval of a group might be a legitimate reason for government to impose restrictions on “a disapproved group,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg of New Jersey, a lawyer who worked on the brief.

“There are many different views about morality, including about the morality of homosexuality, and so courts are in a very awkward position if they have to choose between conflicting moral views,” she said Thursday. “And government cannot have different rules for groups of people depending on whether those groups are morally approved or disapproved by the majority.”

Little Rock lawyer George Wise said a brief from national and state psychology associations and the National Association of Social Workers and its Arkansas chapter points out scientific study on the issue.

“There is a wealth of peer review scientific information out there which indicates that children are not harmed in any way by being parented or foster-parented by gay or lesbian parents or couples,” Wise said.

Susan Sommer, a lawyer with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, said that group’s brief argues that it would be a violation of the state and U.S. constitutions to reinstate the ban in light of an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling in 2002 that struck down the state’s anti-sodomy law and the U.S. Supreme Court decision the following year in a similar case in Texas.

“These courts make crystal clear that these people cannot be condemned or discrimated against for their private intimacy that harms no one,” she said.
Besides Lambda, the brief was filed on behalf of three other gay rights group, and a fourth brief was filed by two child welfare groups.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of January 20, 2006.

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