LITTLE ROCK, AR -- An Arkansas judge has overturned the state's voter-approved law prohibiting adoptions by unmarried couples, a decision critics say will harm children in the foster care and adoption systems who need a stable home with a mother and father.
The April 16 ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Christopher C. Piazza strikes down the Arkansas Adoption and Foster Care Act, which passed 57-43 percent in 2008 and which prohibited cohabitating couples -- heterosexual or homosexual -- from adopting. Piazza said the law violates the Arkansas constitution's guaranteed right to privacy and forces couples "to choose between becoming a parent and having any meaningful type of intimate relationship outside of marriage." The law, Piazza said, targets a "politically unpopular group."
"It is not narrowly tailored to the least restrictive means necessary to serve the State's interest in determining what is in the best interest of the child," Piazza said.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of several homosexual couples. Utah is the only other state with a similar law.
Although the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee -- which sponsored the ballot initiative -- said it will appeal, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has not given a definitive answer.
Jerry Cox, president of the action committee, said Piazza's ruling -- contrary to the state's other adoption laws -- wrongly puts the interests of adults first.
"We have a number of laws that regulate adoption and foster care because we say child welfare is more important than the rights of the adults," Cox said, citing for example a law that foster parents cannot smoke in the home. "What he's done with this ruling is put the rights of adults ahead of child welfare.
"Children have a better chance of success if they grow up in a home with a stable married mother and father," Cox said. "Every parenting study ever done proves this. If the state of Arkansas is going to create families through adoption or foster care, then we need to create good ones, and that's what this law was set up to do."
A 2003 study for the Center for Law and Social Policy cited data showing that the average cohabiting union lasts only two years. The same study showed that cohabiting relationships that do result in marriage have a "much higher" divorce rate than couples who do not live together before marriage.
"Children living with cohabiting parents -- even if the parents later marry -- are thus likely to experience considerable instability in their living situations," the study concluded.
The same study pointed to a "body of research" over the previous two decades and said that "on average, children do best when raised by their two married, biological parents who have low-conflict relationships."
Cox said the ruling was particularly troubling because foster kids "need a stable home where they can recover from whatever it is that they've been through."
The decision is a "classic example of judicial tyranny," Cox added.
"Judge Piazza thumbed his nose at almost 600,000 people who voted for this measure and passed it in a fair election in 2008," Cox said.