Wednesday, March 28, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Mercy killing

Count as one of the ample good deeds by the Arkansas House of Representatives this session the mercy killing of a bill that would make it illegal for gay and lesbian people to rear children in Arkansas, specifically by adoption or foster care.

Euthanasia is a good word for what the Judiciary Committee of the House did yesterday to SB 959, which would have barred gay and most straight unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children. The bill, authored by Sen. Shawn Womack, R-Mountain Home, had narrowly passed the Senate but Womack could not find a single member of the 100-member House to handle it in the lower chamber.

Neither could he find one member of the 20-member committee to give it the ritual “do pass” motion after a lengthy hearing Tuesday morning. By late afternoon he had found someone to make the motion and had the committee reconvene but it failed badly. We like to think that the reality of the bill finally sank in on the lawmakers.

Despite majority disapproval of homosexuality, not many people sanction this kind of punitive and destructive lawmaking. Womack and the legislation’s band of narrowly religious supporters sought to equate gays and pedophiles.

All the evidence presented at hearings in both legislative bodies as well as in a state court trial two years ago was that it was not a legitimate equation and that children reared by gay and lesbian parents, whether by foster care, adoption or natural parentage, are as well adjusted and cared for as children reared under the same circumstances by straight people. Arkansas’s foster-care program has been a seamless scandal for many years. The state Human Services Department can find far too few willing to rear foster children, and the sad cases of abuse and exploitation keep rearing their heads. Why would the state want to cull out one group of people willing to be loving parents when the needs are so desperate?

Gov. Mike Huckabee’s appointees to the state Child Welfare Board decided in 1999 to stop gays and lesbians from serving as foster parents although there was no history of abuse. It was a religious exercise based on a skewed reading of a couple of sentences in Leviticus and Romans, wherein homosexuality seemed to be equated with the evils of wearing garments made of two more fabrics, eating shellfish or raising two crops in the same field.

A trial judge and the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. Womack’s bill was an end-run around that decision. Gov. Mike Beebe at first favored a limited restoration of the ban based on his fear that kids reared by gay people might be subjected to ridicule at school, although a teenager from the Bible-loving town of Bryant testified Tuesday that he was reared by his mother and her lesbian partner and took no abuse for it.

But Beebe also concluded that the bill overreached and was certainly unconstitutional. Presuming that the bill is safely out of commission, the state now will save the expense of more litigation. That is bad news for lawyers but good news for taxpayers.
— Ernie Dumas