An organization that compelled Utah to overhaul its child welfare program might now take on the state over a new law that bans some couples, including gays and lesbians, from adopting children or becoming foster parents.
The San Francisco-based National Center for Youth Law joined Utah Children, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights in a letter to Gov. Mike Leavitt that all but promised legal action if HB103 were not vetoed. Leavitt signed the bill into law earlier this week.The law "deprives children of opportunities for placements that could change their lives for the better while diverting resources that could be spent on children (instead of in) the defense of drawn-out, expensive and divisive litigation and gives the state an extreme, negative image as it opens its doors to visitors in 2002," the letter says.
The youth law center filed a class-action lawsuit against the state in 1994, saying Utah's child-protection system was inadequate. Utah subsequently spent millions of dollars defending itself in David C. vs. Leavitt and coming up with a plan to revamp the state Division of Child and Family Services.
"We implore you not to force the state down that road yet again," the letter says.
The law, which the 2000 Legislature easily approved, prohibits cohabitating couples -- the law defines living together as being in a sexual relationship -- from becoming foster or adoptive parents. Lawmakers say children are better off in homes where a mother and a father are legally married.
Leavitt said during the legislative session that he supported the bill because children should be reared in "traditional" family settings.
"It was certainly not unexpected," Utah Children executive director Roz McGee said of the bill signing. She said she's certain there will be "yet another chapter" in litigation involving the state.
Utah Children and ACLU on behalf of two gay men and a lesbian woman have already sued the state Board of Child and Family Services in 3rd District Court over a restrictive adoption policy it approved last year. They claim the rule is discriminatory, not in the best interest of children and outside the board's authority to enact.
The law now supersedes the policy that spurred it, therefore shifting the aim of any future legal challenge to the state rather than the DCFS board. The board has said it would modify the policy to match state statute.
ACLU executive director Carol Gnade called the law "bad public policy." The ACLU has not decided how to proceed on an existing lawsuit, Gnade said. But, she said, it will "aggressively" fight for the rights of parents and children in whatever course of action it pursues.
Single adults, even if they're living with other adults in a relationship not defined as "cohabiting," would be allowed to adopt children or provide foster care under the new law, which the four organizations say invites a lawsuit in and of itself. They say it arbitrarily deprives children opportunities to be adopted and violates equal protection guarantees in the Constitution. It also does not address the primary reason the DCFS board approved the rule in the first place -- to prevent children from being abused by unrelated adults in the home, according to the letter.