- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2008

On Nov. 4, Arkansas voters passed a law limiting foster parenting and adoption to married couples and single persons.

Unmarried couples, whether opposite sex or same sex, “may not adopt or be a foster parent,” said Initiative Act No. 1.

The measure got on the ballot after 100,000 petitions were gathered; it passed with 57 percent of the vote. It is not retroactive, so pre-existing family arrangements shouldn’t change.

But because it privileges married couples over nonmarried couples in child-rearing - a shockingly unfair idea to some Americans - it probably will not go forward in peace. In fact, a rally has been held to call for the law’s repeal.

The new law also stands in opposition to President-elect Barack Obama’s views on gay parenting.

“[E]quality in relationship, family and adoption rights is not some abstract principle; it’s about whether millions of LGBT Americans can finally live lives marked by dignity and freedom,” Mr. Obama said in an August letter to the Family Equality Council in Boston. The president-elect further promised to seek the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act; end discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender families; and “extend equal treatment in our family and adoption laws.”

What is the deal with Arkansas? Most states readily allow gay and cohabiting couples to parent or adopt. Why would Arkansas voters decide to join the small group of states that do not?

I know some people will answer “homophobia,” but I think it’s more likely that most voters simply decided to put children’s needs first.

Foster children come from homes where they have been seriously neglected or abused physically, sexually or emotionally. Their lives have been chaotic, so they need as much stability, personal attention and normalcy as possible.

In my years of conversations with child-welfare experts - many of whom are sincerely divided about gay and lesbian foster parenting - there is a gnawing concern that kids taken from troubled, even bizarre, homes don’t need to be placed in another unorthodox home.

These children want “regular” homes - they don’t want to have to explain to other kids why they live in a gay household, these experts practically whisper, since they know they are being politically incorrect.

The one thing the kids want - a mother and father who care for them and won’t hurt them - isn’t available in their home, and it’s confusing when they come into foster care and still don’t get parents like this. “The kids can’t help but think, ‘What is wrong with me?’” I’ve been told.

I realize comments like these can incense gay foster and adoptive parents.

I should say I have been told that gay men and women typically undergo extremely stringent vetting processes by agencies. I also know many gay foster parents are deeply appreciated - even honored - for their excellent caregiving.

But I bring up the politically incorrect comments I’ve heard because it astonishes me that it somehow has become unspeakable to say abused and neglected children might want and need a traditional mother-father home.

For the time being, Arkansas voters have decided to exclude all unmarried couples, gay and straight, from foster care, and encourage - even pressure - more married couples to step up as foster parents.

The new law is “all about … living arrangements,” said John Thomas, vice president of the Arkansas Family Council, whose Family Council Action Committee (FCAC) led the petition drive.

Many foster children come from cohabiting homes, he said. “One of the arguments we tried to make was, ‘You want to pull them out of [a cohabiting home] and put them right back in [one] again?’”

“Five thousand years of human history, common sense, every major world religion, and scores of scientific studies agree that the best place for a child is in a home with a married mother and father,” the FCAC said. “If the State of Arkansas is going to create families through adoption or foster care, we owe it to the children to create the best ones possible.”

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at [email protected]

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