An Arkansas judge has ruled the state's ban on gay adoption unconstitutional.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Christopher C. Piazza on Friday struck down a law that bans an unmarried person who lives with a partner from serving as an adoptive or foster parent. Because the state banned gay marriage in 2004, the law disproportionately affects gay couples.

The law – Act 1 – was approved by 57% of voters in 2008.

“The Act significantly burdens non-marital relationships and acts of sexual intimacy between adults because it forces them to choose between becoming a parent and having any meaningful type of intimate relationship outside of marriage,” Piazza wrote in his two-page ruling. “This infringes upon the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed to all citizens of Arkansas.”

“It is especially troubling that one politically unpopular group has been specifically targeted for exclusion by the Act,” he added.

The state had argued that the law protects children from abuse and neglect, adding that children fare better when raised in a traditional family setting, with married parents.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed its legal challenge on behalf of a lesbian couple barred from adopting a special needs child, a grandmother who could not adopt her own grandchild and several married heterosexual couples who were banned by the law from designating certain friends or relatives from adopting their children if they die or become incapacitated.

Sheila Cole is among the plaintiffs. In 2008, her granddaughter was placed in the Arkansas foster care system just months before Act 1 was approve. The law prevents her from adopting her granddaughter because she lives with her lesbian partner.

“We are happy that the court recognized that Act 1 harms Arkansas' foster children because it eliminates potential qualified parents,” Holly Dickson, staff attorney with the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement. “We have a critical shortage of homes now and this ban was denying good, loving homes to our most vulnerable children.”

The Family Council Action Committee (FCAC) was the primary backer responsible for getting the anti-gay measure on the ballot. The Little Rock-based organization also sponsored the Arkansas gay marriage ban.

“Act 1 protects the welfare of children,” Jerry Cox, the group's executive director, told the Times Record Online. “The people of Arkansas recognized this and they passed it. Today's ruling by Judge Piazza hurts children and puts their welfare in jeopardy.”

The FCAC went to work on Act 1 after the state Supreme Court struck down a 1999 Child Welfare Agency Review Board rule that banned gay and lesbian couples from serving as foster parents.

The group freely acknowledged its main objective with the law was to bar gay men and lesbians from serving as foster parents and adopting.

“[Act 1] is about two things,” Cox said in 2008. “It's about child welfare, first of all. Secondly, it is to blunt a homosexual agenda that's at work in other states and that will be at work in Arkansas unless we are proactive about doing something about it.”

Cox, who called Piazza's ruling an example of “judicial tyranny,” said his group acting as intervenor in the lawsuit would appeal the ruling.