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Natalie Wendt

That Other Defeat: Why Arkansas' Law Matters
By Natalie Wendt  |  Dec 6, 2008  |  Page Views

Bans on same-sex marriage werenít the only threats to family diversity that passed into law from the recent elections. Arkansas also banned all unmarried cohabitating couples from adopting or being foster parents. A similar law was already in place in Utah, and Florida had a ban that exclusively targeted gay parents. This hits gay couples hard, along with unmarried heterosexual couples, and itís worse for kids. Arkansas already has 9,000 kids in foster care. Among those, 1,000 children are ready to be adopted today, but many of them have no prospective families to welcome them. Arkansasí rate of foster children "aging out" of foster care has been on the rise over the last decade, with more than two hundred foster kids turning eighteen each year without ever being placed with permanent families. Many spent their childhoods in large state-run group homes instead of with adoptive parents. Foster children have higher rates of drug use, school drop outs, teen pregnancy, and suicide than other kids.

Proponents of "married couples only" adoption claim their position is "in the childrenís best interest." Family Council Action Committee, the group behind the Arkansas law, explain on their website, "Cohabiting homes, both homosexual and heterosexual, lack the stability of a married mother and father. Foster children need stable homes in order to recover from past abuse or neglect." They also claim that the ban will raise awareness about adoption and foster care and increase the number of married couples who adopt. But the same website misrepresents the number of children who need homes, giving a number less than half of what other sources find. Family Council Action Committee describes itself as "pro-family" and says that the law will help children get the best possible care. Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Director of Communications Steve Ralls has responded to the law by saying, "There is nothing pro-family about denying children the opportunity to be part of a loving family."

Sadly, too, many heterosexual married couples are only willing to adopt healthy white infants. Same-sex couples are more likely to adopt "hard to place" kids who are overrepresented in foster care. These include children with disabilities and special needs, older children, groups of siblings, and children of color. Children with disabilities are especially in need of families because they rarely are adequately serviced in group homes. Eliminating same-sex couples hits this pool of children hard.

Regardless of ideology, unmarried and same-sex families are a reality. According to the Williams Instituteís study, nearly a third of same-sex couples are currently raising children and many more couples want to. The same study finds that more than half of gay men want to have children and that lesbian and bisexual women are almost twice as likely as heterosexual women to have taken steps toward adopting. An estimated two million GLB people in the U.S. are interested in adopting, which would more than provide for the almost half a million American foster kids.

One of the most dangerous areas of "married only" adoption laws isnít even about foster and adoptive kids; itís about children living with a birth parent and the parentís partner. Under Arkansasí and Utahís laws, same-sex and different-sex unmarried parents cannot second parent adopt one partnerís biological child. If the bio-parent dies, the children can be taken away from their other parent, even if that parent has been raising the kids since birth. If a little one has a medical emergency and the biological parent canít be reached, the non-biological parent canít make any decisions about the childís care. The same Williams Institute study finds that approximately one in four lesbian and bisexual women report having parented a non-biological child. Now in Arkansas, none would have a claim to those children.

There is a ray of light in all this, though. A few weeks after the election, a Florida Court struck down a ban on gay adoption that had been in place since the 1970s. The Florida ban excluded homosexuals only. Frank Martin Gill, a gay man who wanted to adopt his two foster children, headed the family that fought the ban. Before entering foster care, these children were horrifically abused by their biological parents. Today, they have a permanent loving home with Gill.  

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