|Updated: 3/17/2010 8:36 am
||Published: 3/16/2010 3:56 pm
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Three teenagers living in state-run group homes were allowed by a judge Tuesday to join a lawsuit challenging Arkansas' law that prevents unmarried couples from fostering or adopting children, a ban they say limits their ability to find a family.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that the teens - ages 15, 16 and 17, but identified only by their initials - can be plaintiffs in a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which believes the voter-approved ban is unconstitutional.
State attorneys opposed the motion, noting that it came two months before the case was set to go to trial and will limit their time for depositions and discovery. But the judge allowed the new plaintiffs and declined to delay the May 10 trial, which is expected to last two weeks.
The ACLU sued the state in December 2008 on behalf of a group of families seeking to overturn the ban. Voters approved the measure in 2008, two years after the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned a policy by state child welfare officials that blocked gays from being foster parents.
The law bars unmarried couples who live together from adopting or fostering children. It effectively bans gays and lesbians from adopting or fostering children because Arkansas has a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage.
The teens, which include a set of siblings, are all in state homes because their mothers were addicted to methamphetamine. The suit claims that the law "makes it less likely that (the teens) will be fostered or adopted because it unnecessarily restricts the pool of qualified foster and adoptive families."
Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen asked Piazza to not allow the teens to become plaintiffs so close to trial, noting that the ACLU has had more than a year to prepare its case. More than a dozen plaintiffs are part of the suit.
"The plaintiffs should not be permitted to buy time in order to salvage their own failed complaint," he argued.
The lawsuit challenging the law has been amended four times to adjust the list of plaintiffs, and Piazza questioned why the group took so long to find children affected by the policy.
"Why in the world does it take us over a year to put that in the complaint?" Piazza asked attorney Stacey Friedman, who represents opponents to the ban.
She responded: "We couldn't go and stand in front of a state home and say 'Come join our case."'
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)