Arkansas Voters to Consider Banning Unmarried Couples From Adopting, Foster Parenting

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A proposal to ban unmarried couples living together from fostering or adopting children was approved Monday to appear on this fall's ballot.

Secretary of State Charlie Daniels certified the proposed initiated act for the Nov. 4 ballot after verifying that the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee had submitted 85,389 valid signatures from registered voters. Supporters needed to turn in at least 61,974 valid signatures.

"Arkansas needs to affirm the importance of married mothers and fathers," Family Council President Jerry Cox said. "We need to publicly affirm the gold standard of rearing children whenever we can. The state standard should be as close to that gold standard of married mom and dad homes as possible."

The committee submitted additional petitions last week after the secretary of state said it didn't turn in enough valid signatures.

The proposal is aimed at effectively banning gays and lesbians from becoming foster or adoptive parents.

The measure faces the threat of a lawsuit from groups who say that it unfairly discriminates against unmarried couples and limits the number of foster and adoptive homes available for children.

Arkansas Families First, a group campaigning against the measure, has said it plans to file a lawsuit to keep the measure from appearing on the November ballot. Debbie Willhite, a lead consultant for the group, said last week the group has found numerous signatures that should have been rejected by the state as invalid and that the group also plans to challenge the constitutionality of the measure.

Willhite said the group is still going through the petitions submitted by the group for a potential challenge of the signatures that were certified. She said she didn't know when the group would file a lawsuit.

"We're going to work very hard to defeat this because it is just bad policy for children," Willhite said.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who is opposed to the proposed initiated act, said last week that he was confident it could survive a legal challenge.

The Family Council campaign is a response to a 2006 Arkansas Supreme Court decision striking down a state policy that specifically banned gays and lesbians from becoming foster parents. State policy currently bars unmarried couples living together from serving as foster parents.

Cox said the Family Council will rely on the same network of churches that helped it pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in 2004. But the group still faces hurdles, including the potential lawsuit.

The Family Council's campaign for the proposal had a debt of nearly $2,800 as of July 31. By comparison, Arkansas Families First reported more than $45,000 in the bank for its efforts to fight the measure.