More than a dozen families filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a new Arkansas law banning unmarried couples living together from becoming foster or adoptive parents.
The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the families in Pulaski County Circuit Court seeking to overturn Act 1, which was approved by voters in last month's general election.
"Act 1 violates the state's legal duty to place the best interest of children above all else," said Marie-Bernarde Miller, a Little Rock attorney in the lawsuit.
The group filed the lawsuit on behalf of 29 adults and children from more than a dozen families, including a grandmother who lives with her same-sex partner of nine years and is the only relative able and willing to adopt her grandchild, who is now in Arkansas' state care.
The plaintiffs also include Stephanie Huffman and Wendy Rickman, a lesbian couple raising two sons together who want to adopt a foster child from the state.
"It's just wrong. It's an injustice," said Huffman, who lives in Conway. "I'm being denied an opportunity to provide a home for a special needs child."
The families claim that the act's language was misleading to voters and that it violates their constitutional rights. The lawsuit was filed against the state of Arkansas, the attorney general, the Arkansas Department of Human Services and its director, and the Child Welfare Agency Review Board and its chairman.
The Arkansas Family Council, a conservative group that campaigned for the ban, said it was aimed at gay couples, but the law will affect heterosexuals and homosexuals equally.
Jerry Cox, the council's president, said he will likely ask the court to allow the group to intervene in the case. Cox said he had expected a lawsuit to be filed if the measure passed.
"We are confident this lawsuit will fail and Act 1 will remain on the books," Cox said.
Rita Sklar, ACLU Arkansas' executive director, said the group wanted to file the lawsuit before the law takes effect Thursday. Department of Human Services officials have said they do not expect to have to remove any foster children from their homes. The state had already barred cohabiting unmarried couples from becoming foster parents and was in the process of reversing that policy when voters approved the new ban.
The law does not affect any adoptions that were finalized before it takes effect.
The ACLU had represented four plaintiffs in a lawsuit that led the state Supreme Court to overturn the state's ban on gay foster parents in 2006. The Family Council had campaigned for the initiated act in response to that ruling.
The lawsuit challenging Act 1 was assigned to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox, who had initially overturned the gay foster parent ban.
The ACLU's suit notes that the council had pushed for the new law as part of a campaign to blunt a so-called "gay agenda," but the restriction affects heterosexual and homosexual couples equally.