LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A judge Friday struck down a law approved by Arkansas voters that banned gay couples and other unmarried people living together from serving as adoptive or foster parents.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza said that people in “non-marital relationships” are forced to choose between becoming an adoptive parent and sustaining that relationship.

“Due process and equal protection are not hollow words without substance,” Piazza said. “They are rights enumerated in our constitution that must not be construed in such a way as to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people.”

A group of families, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued in 2008 to overturn the ban. They argued that there are too few families willing to adopt or foster in Arkansas, which has an average of 1,600 children on waiting lists, and that good homes were being arbitrarily cut from the list.

The law banned gays and lesbians from adopting or fostering children because they are unable to marry in Arkansas.

Piazza, a former prosecutor, agreed with claims by families who said the ban lessened the number of available adoptive and foster parents to the point where thousands of children could go without homes. Holly Dickson, an attorney with the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU who represented the families, said Piazza’s ruling opens many homes for children who need them.