Tuesday, October 30, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Resurrecting a straw man

Straw men never go out of fashion in the American political system. Whenever there is a need for a crisis to move the populace in the desired direction, someone finds a straw man. The Family Council, which is closely aligned with Republican politics, found a straw man — gay people marrying or rearing and corrupting children — a few years ago and resurrects him every two years in time to stampede voters into the Republican ranks. The party really doesn’t need it and some in the party resent it.

The Family Council is trying to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to prevent the adoption of children by unmarried households or the assignment of foster children to a gay parent or parents. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said the proposal could not be circulated for signatures because it was worded in a way that would get it stricken from the ballot.

Then he approved a revised initiative that was modeled on his criticisms. But McDaniel announced that while the new proposal would pass constitutional muster, he opposed it. Gov. Beebe also said it was needlessly punitive and created fresh problems in the adoption or foster care of abandoned, neglected and mistreated children. He would vote against it, too, if it reached the ballot next year.

Before beginning the circulation of petitions to put the amendment on the ballot, the Family Council changed it again last week to include the statement that it was in the best interest of children in need of adoption or foster care that they be in homes only of people who were not “cohabiting.” All the research suggests that children are just as apt to get good care in cohabiting homes. Good parents and bad parents come in all sizes and compositions. This all began several years ago when a committee appointed by Gov. Mike Huckabee dictated that the state’s foster-care division stop placing foster children in homes where there was a gay parent or a gay person lived. The Arkansas Supreme Court said the ban was unconstitutional because the committee exceeded the power given it by the legislature. A Family Council bill in the legislature this spring sought to reinstate the ban, but it was defeated. The proposed constitutional amendment is another shot at the same target.

Initiated proposals that target homosexuals stir up some although not all evangelical conservatives and they gin up the turnout at elections, which as the 2004 election in Arkansas and other states showed tends to benefit Republican candidates.

There is a crisis in the care of neglected and troubled children, but the prospect of a gay or unmarried couple gaining custody is not it. The crisis is the great shortage of willing and caring parents of any variety. Children are stacked into the homes of people who are willing to take them for the few dollars that the state pays them per child. The foster-care program has been beset with scandals of abuse and neglect in foster homes year after year. Why would you put even a few willing and caring adults off limits?

Gov. Beebe, a cautious and conservative man, said the child-care professionals worked hard to place children in nurturing homes wherever they could find them and that their hands should not be tied further.

“We should not undermine the current deliberative system and replace it with a rigid, blanket policy that does not allow full consideration for the circumstances of each child,” he said. What a sound policy that is.

But we will hear in the election season next year that God does not want children reared even for a day in anything but a duly married household no matter how mean or uncaring it is and that you had better get to the polls to prevent it. Something tells us voters are wising up to such stratagems.