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Were it not for a big batch of judicial races, the primary elections would mostly be a washout. The fall won't be much better, except for a single door-buster special, the race for president.

Arkansas voters won't see Democrat-vs.-Republican election contests for a single congressional seat in November. The statewide officers aren't on the ballot.

But that doesn't mean politics junkies won't have excitement. The ballot could be dominated by issues rather than candidates. Petition drives are underway on three hot measures: to legalize a state lottery, to restrict public benefits for unauthorized immigrants and to prohibit adoptions and foster parenting in homes of cohabiting unmarried couples.

The Associated Press' Andrew DeMillo wrote in a weekend column that much of the battle on these three issues will be in the pews. The Family Council, which represents politically conservative Christians, is fighting the lottery amendment and working to put the adoption restriction law on the ballot. The proposal is meant to further marginalize gay human beings, an ever-popular cause of some avowed Christians. The effort to punish immigrants doesn't have the same overtly religious backers, though I'd wager that its troops are generally in tune with gay-bashing as well. On the plus side for religion, many people of faith, including clergy, are active in both the Arkansas Friendship Coalition, which will oppose the measure to punish immigrants, and in Arkansas Families First, the group formed to oppose the restrict-adoption law.

The good news is the awakening to the organizing and networking ability of the conservative religious groups, which have been successful in Arkansas by relying on church-based campaigns to force their religious views on the rest of us. The Friendship Coalition and Families First have shown organizing strength this year, too, along with important money-raising ability.

I attended a fund-raiser Saturday for Families First at which about 50 people signed up as sponsors, meaning they were willing to commit at least $250 to the cause. Dozens more paid $100 each to attend. By way of disclosure: I wasn't a sponsor, but I left $250. I also serve on the board of a foundation that has contributed to the organization.

Early work includes public opinion polling. I haven't seen the poll results, but I'm told they are encouraging. Times do change. The younger the voter the less likely the voter is to be in a sweat about gay people. But the issue here isn't simply sexuality, except to the Religious Right. For one thing, the proposal also would prohibit adoptions and foster parenting in homes where unmarried heterosexual couples live. But, primarily, the issue is children.

Arkansas Families First's points are simple: We should be making it easier, not harder, to find loving homes for children who need them. The state has ample means to insure that experts make foster and adoptive parent decisions on a case by case basis. There's no reason to adopt a blanket rule that bans qualified people. The proposed law works against the best interests of children who need loving homes.

If you believe this, too, I urge you to get in touch with Arkansas Families First. Write them at PO Box 34191, Little Rock, AR 72201 or call 501-280-0082. That's the office phone of the campaign director, Debbie Wilhite. You might get an answering machine now, but volunteers will handle phones eventually. A website, www.arkansasfamiliesfirst.org is also in development.

 

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