Last edited: February 14, 2005

Foster-Care Ban Still Sought For Gays But Not Singles

Arkansas Democrat Gazette, August 26, 1998
Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203
Fax 501-372-3908

By Elizabeth McFarland

A state board on Tuesday abandoned its effort to prohibit unmarried people from being foster parents but will research whether it could continue with its proposed ban on homosexuals.

The nine-member Child Welfare Agency Review Board appointed a committee of board members to gather information about whether homosexuals are unfit to be foster parents.

The board’s decision to continue to explore the prospect of banning homosexuals disturbed about 25 people who attended the meeting to protest the proposed rule against gay foster parents.

"I’m very upset about that, that we would consider homosexual people less than human," Carole Walderns of Little Rock, who said she’s a single foster parent, told the board.

Judy Matsuoka of Little Rock, director of the Women’s Project, said children need a "stable loving home" regardless of the sexual orientation of the adults in the home. The Women’s Project is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to working against violence.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the board its proposal will compound a shortage of foster homes and cause more children to be placed in shelters.

An "anti-gay bias" is not enough of a basis to justify prohibiting homosexuals from serving as foster parents, Sklar said.

Pat Cross of Little Rock, who has raised six foster children, said she has opened every aspect of her life to scrutiny to qualify as a foster parent but "I would have a problem with opening my sexual life in order to be a foster parent."

The committee is scheduled to meet Sept. 9 to discuss the data on the issue of homosexuals as foster parents. The board plans to meet at a later date to hear the committee’s report and finalize the wording of a rule on the matter so that a 30-day period provided for public comment on such rules may begin.

The board voted July 28 to revise licensing standards for private agencies to require that foster parents be heterosexual married couples.

The board was created in 1997 by the Legislature to prescribe minimum licensing standards for child-welfare agencies.

Board member Robin Woodruff of Little Rock introduced the proposal to ban singles and homosexuals. She said she believes it’s in a child’s best interest to have both a mom-and-dad role model.

Woodruff did not back down from that stance Tuesday, though she acknowledged that legal research had convinced her that it is against the law to prohibit unmarried people from being foster parents.

Joel Landreneau, attorney for the state Department of Human Services, told the board that the statute creating the board defines foster home as "a private residence of one or more individuals."

He said the board could not make a rule that invalidates the law that created the board. Woodruff agreed, and the board voted to rescind the part of the proposed rule that sought to ban single people as foster parents.

Woodruff said she has friends and loved ones who are homosexual and she is not making the proposal maliciously. "The state of Arkansas still has [homosexual] sodomy laws on the books. I’m aware that currently is under challenge, but right now that’s still the law. So based on that law, I believe it’s wrong to place our foster children in a homosexual home," she said.

Woodruff also said she knows of two studies "which show a statistically significant difference in the sexual orientation of a child raised in a homosexual home compared to a heterosexual home."

She said she believes that heterosexual homes are more stable, since her research says homosexuals have a lifetime average of 50 sexual partners while heterosexual partners have a lifetime average of four.

Woodruff also said a heterosexual home is healthier for the child because homosexuals are "significantly prone" to diseases such as HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, rectal infections and intestinal diseases dubbed "gay bowel syndrome."

Landreneau said that for the board to prohibit homosexual foster parents, it must "establish a rational relationship" between what it classifies as homosexual and the legitimate state interest of providing for the "best interest of the child."

"For example, are there statistics indicating that persons fitting the definition the board adopts for ‘homosexual’ are any more likely to abuse children, or commit suicide, or abuse substances?" Landreneau wrote in an analysis of the proposed rule.

He said for the rule to stand up to court challenge it would have to define homosexual behavior. It also would have to make exceptions for people forced to perform homosexual acts and those who experimented with homosexual behavior in the past but are now living heterosexual lives, Landreneau said.

He also said he was concerned about the ability of the state to enforce the proposed rule. "An unscrupulous parent whose rights are being terminated may seek to use this against a foster parent," Landreneau said.

Dr. Bob West of Little Rock, the only board member who opposed Woodruff’s July 28 resolution, said the proposal presents problems. "Short of installing video cameras in people’s homes, I don’t see how we’re going to enforce this," West said.

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