Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Initiated Act 1 would encode into state law the belief of the Arkansas Family Council that gay couples aren't fit to be parents, and it would inhibit parenting by straight people, too.
The proposed law, which won a spot on the November ballot thanks to the Family Council's petition drive, would bar the state from allowing unmarried, cohabiting couples to become foster or adoptive parents.
The state Department of Human Services, which oversees the division that licenses foster parents, had been following a Huckabee administration directive that barred cohabiting adults from fostering children. The directive was issued after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that a state regulation allowing DHS to discriminate specifically against homosexuals was unconstitutional. Since gay couples aren't allowed to marry in Arkansas, the directive was a back-door way to carry out the intent of the discriminatory legislation.
But, with the number of children coming into foster care increasing, the state — with the high-profile support of Gov. Mike Beebe and retired judges — decided two weeks ago to ditch the directive against cohabiting adults.
The Family Council called a public hearing that triggered the change in state policy to allow unmarried couples to adopt a “sham.” Jerry Cox, the president of the council's committee formed to push the act and fight the “homosexual agenda,” said DHS “folded under the pressure of pro-gay groups.”
Cox defended the proposed law, saying it would ensure the state use the “gold standard” — homes headed by heterosexual married couples — in the fostering and adoption of children.
If heterosexual married couples are the gold, are the 20 percent of licensed, single foster care parents the silver? Or would gay couples be silver and single parents be bronze?
“I'm not going to go there,” Cox said. He said the Family Council did not plan to eventually take on single parents. “That's not an issue we chose to address.”
DHS decided to change the policy after hearing testimony from pediatricians, psychologists, child welfare experts, former foster children, adoptive parents and advocacy groups at the public hearing. The change would amend the Child Welfare Licensing Review Board's policy to allow the agency to make placement decisions in the best interest of the child, on a case by case basis.
There are at any one time in Arkansas 3,700 kids needing foster care; there are only 1,000 eligible foster parents. Those who can't be placed in homes go to group homes or emergency shelters; many of those who are placed in foster care must make repeated moves because of a poor fit. Sixty percent of children in foster care in Arkansas are moved to three or more homes and some counties lack foster homes entirely, according to Jennifer Ferguson, deputy director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
One of the effects of Initiated Act 1 would be that unmarried couples who want to adopt the children of their own relatives could not. Aimee Berry, the executive director for the Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told a fund-raiser recently that she did not believe the general public was aware of that. “As the mom of two small kids, it terrifies me to think that if something happened to my husband and I, God forbid, and we weren't around to raise our children there would be a law that would prohibit our children from being raised by who we thought best,” she said later in an interview.
The Family Council is quick to point out that Initiated Act 1 would not affect guardianship, but Berry said that to many people, guardianship is not enough.
Berry is working with Arkansas Families First, a coalition of child welfare agencies including the local AAP chapter, Arkansas Advocates, the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the Interfaith Alliance and others.