Monday, September 24, 2007

EDITORIALS>>An initiative we don't need

We are in for another season of pious ranting about homosexuals and cohabiting sinners. The last one was 2004, when Arkansas and several other states amended their constitutions to prohibit any sort of public recognition of homosexual relationships, either marriage or civil union, that might convey rights upon them like inheritance or hospital visitation.

The Arkansas Family Council filed a proposed initiated act this week that would prohibit cohabiting couples from adopting children or serving as foster parents. It will easily obtain the roughly 62,000 voter signatures to get the proposition on the 2008 ballot and everyone running for public office next year will have to declare his or her support for the proposition. The Family Council tries to have some social proposition dealing with gays or abortion on the ballot at each election. It provides a marvelous distraction from the issues of the day.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel rejected the first proposition earlier this month because the ballot title carried a preamble telling people why they should vote for the proposal: rearing kids in homes of unmarried people would lead to child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and poverty. The Supreme Court has ruled that ballot titles must be neutral, telling voters in the polling booth only what the act or amendment would do. The Family Council deleted the arguments and resubmitted it. That is indeed better, although the Supreme Court almost certainly would have tossed the proposition off the ballot next fall if McDaniel had let the illegal language stay.

Arkansas, like nearly all the other states, had no such restrictions on adoption or foster care until a state board imposed a ban on foster care in households inhabited by homosexual men or women. A trial judge and the Arkansas Supreme Court voided the requirement because it exceeded the board’s authority under Arkansas law. The legislature in its wisdom refused early this year to grant the board that authority or to impose the ban itself, so the Family Council rigged up an initiated act to do the job.

The Family Council underestimates the voters, who will recognize the meanness and danger of the proposition. The trial of the foster-care ban proved that children reared in homes where gays or lesbians resided were in no greater danger of abuse or emotional and mental problems than children reared in heterosexual settings.

More to the point, the number of neglected and abused children needing loving homes far exceeds their availability, and the state disserves these needy youngsters when it declares whole categories of parents off limits on some quasi-religious premise.

The proposal would strangely let unmarried or gay men and women adopt or house foster children as long as the parent didn’t share a bedroom with another adult. We will need a resolute band of bedroom police armed with warrants to monitor compliance if the proposition is enacted. It is too bad that in the year 2008 we must confront such a dismal prospect.