LITTLE ROCK – Supporters of an initiative that would ban unmarried people who live together from adopting or fostering children in Arkansas can expect a legal challenge if the measure qualifies for the November general election ballot, a spokeswoman for a coalition of opponents said Wednesday.
“We will absolutely, positively, beyond any doubt, file a suit to enjoin the initiative from the ballot,” said Debbie Willhite, spokeswoman for the group Arkansas Families First.
Backers of the proposed initiated act were to submit a second batch of signatures to the secretary of state’s office today in an attempt to offer enough valid names of registered voters to put the measure on the November ballot.
The Family Council Action Committee had 30 extra days to gather additional signatures under state law after the more than 65,000 names submitted by the July 7 deadline fell about 4,000 short of the 61,794 required for certification.
Willhite said Arkansas Families First is considering three points on which to challenge the initiative – the validity of signatures, the constitutionality of the proposal and whether the ballot title is sufficient.
“We think (initiative supporters) have gotten so far off the desire to care for children that they have gone to extremes to get this on the ballot,” Willhite said.
Jerry Cox, leader of the Family Council committee, said Wednesday he was not surprised about the possible lawsuit.
“They’re free to question anything about our proposal they want to,” he said. “This is not unexpected. We drafted the measure in such a way that we believe it will withstand any legal challenge.”
Willhite said her group has been reviewing the signatures turned in and has discovered evidence that many of the signatures, far more than ruled invalid by Daniels’ office, were gathered improperly.
“We have found many more discrepancies than found by the secretary of state’s office,” she said.
She also contended the proposal violates the state constitution because it discriminates against a class of people – those who are unmarried and cohabiting – and that the ballot title misrepresents the actual ballot measure.
“We’re pretty optimistic that we’ll be able to keep this from being voted on,” Willhite said.
After a 2006 state Supreme Court decision struck down a state regulation that banned gays from becoming foster parents, supporters of the rule went to the Legislature in 2007 with a bill to write the state policy into law.
The measure passed the Senate but failed in a House committee after Gov. Mike Beebe said it had constitutional problems.
After the session, the Family Council committee reworked the proposal into a proposed initiated act that would extend the prohibition to all unmarried, cohabiting couples.
The Family Council spearheaded a successful campaign in 2004 for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state, and Cox has acknowledged that part of its impetus for the proposed adoption and foster care ban is to “blunt a homosexual agenda.”