LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas cannot ban homosexuals from becoming foster parents because there is no link between their sexual orientation and a child's well-being, the state's high court ruled Thursday.
The court unanimously agreed with a lower-court judge that the state's child welfare board improperly tried to regulate public morality. The ban also violated the separation of powers doctrine, the justices said.
The board instituted the ban in 1999, saying children should be in traditional two-parent homes because they would be more likely to thrive.
Four residents sued, claiming discrimination and privacy violations against homosexuals who otherwise qualified as foster parents.
The justices agreed Thursday, saying the ban was "an attempt to legislate for the general assembly with respect to public morality."
"There is no correlation between the health, welfare and safety of foster children and the blanket exclusion of any individual who is a homosexual or who resides in a household with a homosexual," Associate Justice Donald L. Corbin wrote in the opinion.
The Arkansas Supreme Court also said that the testimony of a Child Welfare Agency Review Board member showed "the driving force between adoption of the regulations was not to promote the health, safety and welfare of foster children but rather based upon the board's views of morality and its bias against homosexuals."
The high court also said that being raised by homosexuals did not cause academic problems or gender identity problems as the state argued.
The ban had not been used since the lower-court ruling in 2004, the state's Health and Human Services Department spokeswoman Julie Munsell said. She said the plaintiffs had not sought foster-parent status since then.
The ruling left open the possibility for lawmakers or the child welfare board to pursue a ban through legislation.
Jerry Cox, director of the Arkansas Family Council, said his group would push for legislation to reimpose the ban and would consider campaigning for a constitutional amendment in 2008.
"What the court effectively said is the Legislature needs to deal with this," Cox said. "That's where we plan to take this."