PHOENIX — Just a week after Gov. Doug Ducey vigorously advocated for more adoptions regardless of the parents sexual preference, he found he had to overturn a state policy blocking gay adoptions.
Ducey issued an order late Wednesday voiding a Department of Child Safety policy of refusing to certify legally married gay couples for adoption or permitting them to jointly be foster parents.
A spokesman for the governor said he just learned about the policy earlier Wednesday.
In a sharply worded statement, the governor said his administration is "unambiguously and unapologetically pro-adoption,'' and the policy, instituted without his knowledge, is unacceptable.
The governor's move came two months after former agency head Charles Flanagan quietly reversed what had been the policy of allowing such adoptions since last October, when a federal judge struck down Arizona's constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman.
However, newly-elected Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who was sworn into office in January, subsequently advised Flanagan that allowing gays to wed did not reverse other Arizona laws, resulting in Flanagan's February policy disallowing gay adoptions.
Most notable among those laws Brnovich cited was one which says only "a husband and wife may jointly adopt children.'' Another says "placement preference shall be with a married man and woman.''
The other legal issue is that while the Arizona ban on same-sex marriage has been voided, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on cases from other states. That raises the possibility the federal court order here allowing gays to wed — and, presumably, making their unions equal with opposite-sex couples — ultimately could be voided.
Flanagan is gone, having been fired earlier this year by Ducey. But his successor, Greg McKay, had kept the policy in place.
Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said Ducey only learned of Flanagan's policy change on Wednesday. Ducey was clearly unhappy with both the policy and having to learn about it after an inquiry from a reporter.
"I have made it abundantly clear since day one that my administration is unambiguously and unapologetically pro-adoption,'' the governor said in his prepared statement.
"With 17,000 children under the stateís care, we need more adoption in Arizona, not less,'' Ducey continued. "That ís why I feel strongly, as I have said many times before, that all loving families should be able to serve as foster parents and adopt.''
The governor ordered DCS "to immediately ensure that all legally married couples in Arizona are able to jointly serve as foster parents and adopt.''
Brnovich did not return calls for comment late Wednesday.
This is the second time that Ducey has blocked efforts to throw roadblocks in the past of gay couples who want to adopt.
The first came earlier this month when he vetoed legislation that would have allowed county attorneys to refuse to help with adoptions.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who sought the change, said it was simply to get rid of a state mandate and allow his lawyers to focus on higher priorities. But it later became public that Montgomery had refused to help a gay couple complete an adoption.
"My concern is that this law could potentially reduce the number of adoptions,'' Ducey said in killing the measure.
A day later Ducey make a highly-visable announcement about wanting to see more kids adopted, and that he does not care if the parents are gay.
The legal basis for what Ducey did remains to be decided, no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately rules on same-sex marriage.
Both Montgomery and Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, contend that adoption is a separate legal issue — and separate legal fight — even if the high court says states must allow gays to wed. Both have said that legal fight concerns only marriage and does not upset separate laws on who can adopt.
That contention, however, has been criticized on several fronts.
In a letter earlier this month to Montgomery, Victoria Lopez, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, threatened to sue Montgomery if he refused to help all couples who adopt, gay or straight.
"Arizona same-sex married couples enjoy the same rights and privileges as opposite-sex married couples,'' she wrote. Lopez said Montgomery's action "denies gay people equal protection under the law.''
That's also the position of Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall who called differentiating between gay and straight married couples "outright discrimination'' and "repugnant.''
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