Arkansas to allow foster parenting for unmarried, same-sex couples

BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: October 10, 2008
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas plans to reverse course and allow unmarried or same-sex couples to take on foster children on a case-by-case basis, even as voters prepare to decide the issue in November, the state Department of Human Services said Thursday.

The agency said it would end its plan to formalize the prohibition, which has been in place since an executive directive was signed in 2005. The department said it will instead propose allowing state workers to place foster children case by case.

"Recognizing that this is a sensitive societal issue, it’s important to expand our recruitment base so that we can to find a family that best meets the needs of every child,” agency director John Selig said.

Vote set in November
The change comes as a conservative group campaigns in favor of a November ballot initiative that would ban unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children. The Arkansas Family Council says its measure specifically targets gay couples, though it would affect heterosexual couples, too.

Several children’s advocacy groups last week asked the state to drop the policy because it was restricting the number of good homes available for foster children.

Gov. Mike Beebe, who previously supported the prohibition, last week backed off and said a change might be needed because of a shortage of foster homes in the state.

A circuit judge earlier decided that a state ban on gay and lesbian foster parents was unconstitutional.

To get around the ruling, the state broadened the ban to include all unmarried cohabitating couples, not just same-sex couples. The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the county ruling in 2006.