PHOENIX -- Married couples hoping to adopt a child will now get preference over singles.
Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation Monday that spells out that, everything else being equal, the Department of Economic Security and private adoption agencies must always decide in favor of the couple. Brewer gave no reason for her decision.
Brewer also penned her approval Monday to two other measures sought by social conservatives.
One overrules regulations by the Arizona Board of Nursing which ruled in 2008 that certain specially trained nurse practitioners have the necessary training to perform early-term surgical abortions. The other is designed to keep churches and preachers out of legal trouble when they urge parishoners how to vote on ballot measures.
But it was the legislation on adoption that proved to be the most controversial.
Under current law the prime factor for determining placement is the best interests of the child.
Technically speaking, that remains. It requires the Department of Economic Security or private adoption agencies to place a child in a home "that best meets the safety, social, emotional, physical and mental health needs of the child."
It also lists other factors to be considered, including placing a child with a sibling, the wishes of the birth parent and whether there are "established relationships" between the child and the prospective adoptive family such as putting a youngster with a grandparent or a foster parent. The preferences of any child at least 12 years old also must be considered.
But the law says that if all relevant factors are equal and the choice is between a married couple or single adult, "placement preference shall be with a married man and woman."
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy which lobbied on behalf of the legislation, defended its terms.
"It still enables single individuals to be foster parents, to be able to adopt," she said. "But it also gives, where all factors are equal, a chance for kids to have a mom and a dad."
Opponents said there are more children who need adoptive homes than prospective parents. They argued the legislation could end up leaving children in foster care who otherwise might find permanent homes with single parents.
The abortion legislation is likely the final word in a multi-year fight between the Arizona Board of Nursing and abortion foes, including the Center for Arizona Policy.
In 2008, after listening to complaints, the board concluded that nurse practitioners with certain specialized training are medically qualified to perform early-term abortions where the fetus is essentially vacuumed from the womb. But it took until this year for the Legislature to approve a bill stripping the board of its authority in that area and for the governor to sign it.
Brewer's signature comes on the heels of her approving legislation which says that medical abortions performed with RU-486 can be done only by a physician. Officials at Planned Parenthood of Arizona say the moves will make it more difficult for some women to terminate a pregnancy.
Brewer is on record as supporting an outright ban on abortion except to save the life of the woman or in cases of rape or incest. Going that far, however, is not an option because of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.
The measure on politics and religion is designed to prevent any state or local official from claiming that the activities of priests, rabbis, ministers, imams and other religious leaders fits within the realm of political activity and requires them to form a campaign finance committee and file reports of their activities.
Herrod, who also lobbied for that measure, said there already are limits under federl law of what churches, as charities, can do.
"But pastors have freedom of speech, they have freedom of religion," Herrod said.
"They are free to communicate to their flocks positions on issues," she continued. "That's what the First Amendment's about."