At a Little Rock, Arkansas press conference this morning, more than a dozen families announced they would ask a court to strike down a new law that bans unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children.

Act 1 was approved by voters on November 4. The law affects both gay and straight couples, but disproportionately impacts gay couples who cannot legally marry in the state.

The lawsuit was filed by the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU on behalf of the families.

“This law hurts families and children in many ways,” said Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas in a press release. “It takes away parents' right to decide for themselves who will adopt their children if they die, it denies the many children in Arkansas state care a chance at the largest possible pool of foster and adoptive homes, and denies couples who are living together but unmarried the chance to provide loving homes to children who desperately need them.”

“Ever since the election, we've been hearing from all corners of the state from dozens of families who are panicking about how Act 1 impacts them,” Sklar said.

Sheila Cole, who is banned from adopting her own granddaughter, is among the plaintiffs. In May, Sheila's granddaughter was placed in the Arkansas foster care system when she was two months old. Cole is now waiting for approval from the state to adopt her granddaughter, but fears Act 1 will prevent that because she lives with her lesbian partner.

Frank Pennisi and Matt Harrison have been together for eight years. Matt's cousin and her husband would like the couple to adopt their two daughters in the event of their death. Act 1, however, disqualifies the couple.

The families argue that Act 1 violates the federal and state constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The complaint was filed today in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

Act 1 was backed by the Family Council Action Committee (FCAC), the same Little Rock-based organization largely responsible for passage of a constitutional ban against gay marriage in Arkansas in 2004. The FCAC is partially funded by James Dobson's conservative ministry Focus on the Family Action.

While the law bans both gay and straight couples, the FCAC's website lists banning gay and lesbian couples from adoption as a goal of the law.

The FCAC lists three primary reasons for the law: For the safety of children, to increase the number of prospective homes, and to “blunt a homosexual agenda.”

“We are confident this lawsuit will fail and Act 1 will remain on the books,” FCAC President Jerry Cox told The Associated Press.

The FCAC went to work on the anti-gay law after the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down a 1999 Child Welfare Agency Review Board rule banning gay and lesbian couples from serving as foster parents after a prolonged seven-year battle.

On the Net: ACLU plaintiff profiles at