Sen. Shawn Womack's anti-gay bill died in House committee today. He enlisted no House sponsor for the measure to ban adoption and foster parenting by gay people, even of blood relatives. No member of House Judiciary Committee offered a do-pass motion. Tough questioning came from Reps. Steve Harrelson, Bubba Powers and Kathy Webb.
You'll find more details from Jennifer Reed on the jump.
Womack presented the bill without a House sponsor. He clarified that the bill would allow exceptions in the ban on cohabitating heterosexual couples adopting or fostering children if one of the couple was a close blood relative of the child. (A proposed amendment from Rep. Jon Woods to extend that exception to gay people failed.) And, he said, it would have no affect at all on custody and guardianship issues, so parents could still state in their wills that they wanted a gay or cohabitating straight friend or relative to be their child's legal guardian.
Womack had two speakers on his side: Walt McKay, a marriage and family therapist from Mountain Home, and Martha Adcock, staff attorney for the Family Council. On the other side were two teen-agers being raised by gay parents or relatives, two of those relatives, the vice presidnet of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Juvenile Judge Joyce Warren, the staff attorney for the Arkansas ACLU, a lesbian public school teacher, and Annie Abrams, a self-described human rights advocate.
Opponents were in far more evidence than supporters of the bill at the packed 90-minute hearing, and the only legislators who spoke or asked questions were challenging the bill as well.
The toughest questions came from Rep. Steve Harrelson, once a supporter of the idea of banning gay foster parents. At one point he asked McKay, who said he supported the ban because of research (hotly disputed by opponents) showing homosexuals had higher rates of psychological problems and relationship instability than heterosexuals, whether he thought a 60-year-old, celibate gay person would make an unfit foster parent. McKay answered that he would have to make that determination on a case-by-case basis. "That's exactly what I'm asking DHS to do," Harrelson said.
Rep. Kathy Webb, who is a lesbian, challenged McKay's "research," asking him if he'd heard of a long string of national professional organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the Child Welfare League, all of which have concluded that children raised by gay parents or guardians aren't any different from their peers.
Shane Stout, a 15-year-old student at Bryant High School, spoke about being raised by his biological mother and her lesbian partner of 17 years. He's a normal high school kid, he said -- plays sports, goes on dates with his girlfriend, takes part in church activities, wants to go to Harvard Medical School. And he's never been harassed for having two mothers, even when he was attending a private Catholic school, he said. He blamed the media for exaggerating the idea that being raised by gay parents is harmful and stigmatizing. "I'm an actual person in the real world who goes to school, and nobody gives me anything bad" because of his parents, he said
Other questions from Reps. David Johnson and David "Bubba" Powers centered on how the ban would be enforced -- how child welfare officials would investigate whether someone was actually gay if they said they weren't, or whether a couple that lived together was involved in a sexual relationship -- and how "homosexual" would be defined. If someone had a single homosexual experience five years ago, Johnson asked McKay, would that make him gay under the statute?
Womack, who answered the question indirectly later in the hearing, apparently thinks so:
"What if someone was a sex offender five years ago, or had a drug conviction five years ago?" he said.
That response caused noticeable displeasure among the audience.