LITTLE ROCK A conservative group hopes a ballot item that would ban unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children will effectively reinstate a ban on gay foster parents overturned by the state’s highest court.
The head of the Arkansas Family Council said Thursday, Aug. 23, that the broader ban would withstand court challenges better than a measure focusing only on gays and lesbians.
“We looked at what was likely to be pretty bullet proof when it came to constitutional challenges,” said Jerry Cox, the council’s executive director and president.
The council hopes to place the proposed act on the November 2008 ballot. It has submitted the proposal to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who is reviewing the measure.
The council this year pushed unsuccessfully for legislation that would have banned gay people from fostering or adopting children.
Cox said the ban did not specifically target gays and lesbians partly because the group believed cohabiting heterosexuals are not safe for children, either.
If approved by voters, the ban would take effect Jan. 1, 2009.
Cox’s group has been pushing for a ban on gay parents to be reinstated after it was overturned by the state Supreme Court last year.
Legislation barring any unmarried couple from fostering or adopting children passed the state Senate but failed before the House Judiciary Committee during this year’s session.
Gov. Mike Beebe said earlier this year the measure which was written by the council had constitutional problems and did not offer equal protection to all people.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample would not comment on the proposal.
Rita Sklar, the state director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said broadening the ban beyond just gay couples doesn’t make it any less vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.
“It doesn’t make it better,” Sklar said. “There’s nothing better about including a lot more families who are going to have private decisions made for them by the government.”
Cox said the group provided the written proposal to the attorney general’s office on Aug. 21. If McDaniel’s office approves the wording of the popular name and ballot title of the proposal, the Family Council would need 61,947 signatures of registered voters to place the issue on the ballot. That number represents 8 percent of the votes cast for governor in the 2006 election.
It would have until July 2008 to submit the signatures to the secretary of state’s office.
Cox said the group is drafting a guide to adopting and fostering children that it plans to distribute along with petitions if McDaniel approves the ballot title.
“That will enable the people to say on the one hand we’re circulating those petitions to prevent children going to home that aren’t safe, but also that there’s a need for good foster homes in the state.
“There’s a need for children to be adopted,” Cox said.
In 2004, Cox’s group backed a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 31, 2007