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ELECTION 08: Ark. ballot proposal would prohibit adoption by gay, cohabiting couples

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a special series of stories focusing on the election that Baptist Press will run between now and Nov. 4. Stories will run on Wednesdays and Fridays.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Jerry Cox of the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee says he has received his share of hate mail and hate e-mails in recent months — not to mention a few annoying phone calls.

But, he says, he has thousands of years of history — and common sense — on his side. On Nov. 4, voters in Arkansas will consider whether to pass a law prohibiting adoption by cohabitating heterosexual and homosexual couples. Although the law — it’s called Initiated Act 1 on the ballot — would cover all non-married couples, it’s been dubbed by some the “gay adoption ban,” and Cox and his office have received plenty of unwanted attention. They’re the group that organized a petition drive to put it on the ballot.

Only one other state — Utah — has a similar law banning adoption by all couples living together before marriage.

Cox’s group calls the proposal the Arkansas Adoption and Foster Care Act. It would not apply to single people.

“Every parenting study ever done, all the world’s major religions, thousands of years of history and common sense tell us that the best place for a child to grow up is in a stable home with a married mother and father,” said Cox, who is president of the Arkansas family organization. “If the state of Arkansas is going to create families through adoption or foster care, then why not create good ones? Why not create families that give a child the best chance of success?

“Everything we know tells us the best place for a child is in a stable home with a married mother and father. We know not every situation is that, but if we’re going to go out here and deliberately create families, then why don’t we strive for the best we can do?”

The ballot measure is the fifth Cox has organized, and, he says, it was the most difficult one to get on the ballot. Four years ago, a marriage amendment made it on the ballot with ease, obtaining more than 200,000 signatures. The adoption act — which would be a law and not an amendment to the constitution — garnered about 90,000 signatures. While that is significantly more than the 62,000 needed, Cox and other supporters had to — in a first for them — take advantage of a 30-day grace period provided by the Arkansas secretary of state to obtain more signatures. They initially turned in 66,000, but some signatures were invalidated, dropping them below the 62,000 threshold. Supporters then used the 30 days to gather another 30,000 signatures.

Despite that slight difficulty, however, supporters believe the measure can pass. For one thing, they say, research is on their side. 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.

In addition to stability, studies show children in a married household with a mother and a father are less likely to be poor, are healthier, are less likely to be physically abused and tend to do better in schools. Conservatives also note that states placing children in homosexual homes are intentionally creating either a father-less or a mother-less home.

Cox believes the act, if passed, will survive any lawsuit.

“I believe it’s constitutional because it treats homosexuals and heterosexuals exactly the same,” he said. “It simply says, if you have a live-in boyfriend or a live-in girlfriend, you cannot adopt a child or be a foster parent in Arkansas.”

The proposed law would apply to both private adoptions as well as foster care children. Opponents of the proposal often ask Cox and other supporters if they believe it’s best to leave children in foster care rather than put them in a home with same-sex parents. Cox has an answer.

“People try to offer us this choice or that choice and I say, ‘Well, how about neither one?'” he said. “Why don’t we go out here as a state and find good, stable homes for these children? The homes are out there. It’s just a matter of our will as a state to put out the effort to go and find them. That’s where I think we have failed children. We as a state have failed to find them good homes. It’s unacceptable for us to just say we have to settle for less than the very best for our children.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For more information about the adoption act, or to donate, visit www.ArkansasAdoptionAct.com.

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  • Michael Foust