PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has overruled a legal opinion from the attorney general's office and instructed the state's child welfare agency to allow all legally married couples, including same-sex couples, to jointly be adoptive and foster parents.
The move by the Republican governor reverses the Department of Child Safety's decision in February to stop giving same-sex couples licenses to be foster parents and adopt those children. The department had been allowing same-sex couples to be foster parents and adopt children previously in state care since a federal judge overturned the state's ban on gay marriage in November.
"We've been clear and we've been consistent — we want to be pro-adoption," Ducey said Thursday. "There's 17,000 kids that are in the care of the state. I want to see them in loving homes under the legal structure."
The child safety department halted giving licenses to same-sex parents after Attorney General Mark Brnovich's office provided what it called "clarification" on adoption because the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing court rulings on same-sex marriage.
That legal advice mirrors the tack taken by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who is refusing to help same-sex couples with step-parent adoptions. Montgomery's office provides those services for free to non-same sex couples, a policy that led the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona to threaten to sue him for violating the Constitution's equal protection clause.
ALCU spokesman Steve Kilar said Thursday that Montgomery failed to respond to their letter by a Monday deadline and they are preparing a lawsuit.
The ACLU also had sent letters in February to the Child Safety Department demanding that it resume offering foster care licensing to same-sex couples, but there was no change in policy.
Ducey's reversal came within hours of publication of an Arizona Capitol Times story (http://goo.gl/rz2Nhc) on the Child Safety Department's policy. Ducey said he acted immediately upon learning of the policy.
ACLU executive Director Alessandra Soler praised Ducey for his quick response.
"The Department of Child Safety was preventing children in foster care from being placed with loving parents at a time when Arizona's child welfare system is in crisis," Soler said in a statement. "Gov. Ducey's unapologetically pro-adoption stance is in the best interest of Arizona children and serves to advance the U.S. Constitution's equal protections principles."
Speaking after attending the annual Arizona Governor's Prayer Breakfast at a downtown Phoenix hotel, Ducey declined to address how his action might be seen by Brnovich and Montgomery, two fellow Republicans who have supported the governor but broke with him on adoptions.
"What I want to talk about is what I'm for, and it's been being for adoption, putting these kids in homes of permanency and care, and that's how we acted," Ducey told The Associated Press.
Just last week, Ducey vetoed a bill that would have freed county attorneys from a legal mandate to help with adoptions. The law was seen by some as a way for county attorneys to avoid helping gay couples with adoptions.
Ducey said he vetoed the bill that was pushed by Montgomery because he wants to see more adoptions, regardless of who the parents are.
Repeated calls to Montgomery spokesman Jerry Cobb and Ryan Anderson, communication director for Attorney General mark Brnovich, were not immediately returned Thursday.
However, Anderson told The Capitol Times on Wednesday that the office gave new guidance after the Supreme Court decided to review same-sex marriage cases.
"I realize that we're talking about marriage here, which is the law of the land, but that is different than adoption in the statutes," Anderson told the Capitol Times. "(In) Arizona, we currently permit same-sex couples to marry, but I think it's not yet clear if that rationale advances, whether it applies to adoption and licensing statutes."