Debate over Florida’s gay adoption ban heats up

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday July 16, 2009

Proposed legislation introduced by state Rep. Mary Brandenburg [D-West Palm Beach] earlier this month could potentially repeal a ban on same-sex couples from adopting children that has been a source of deep contention in the Sunshine State for more than three decades.

House Bill 3, which will go before lawmakers in their 2010 session, will face major opposition in the Republican-controlled House, particularly given that similar incarnations of the bill have languished for the past eight years. Activists remain resilient on the issue in spite of this sustained opposition. And an ongoing court battle continues to increase the already controversial legislation's profile.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman set a new precedent last November with her ruling in favor of foster father Frank Gill, who had attempted to adopt two brothers he had fostered for four years. In her decision, Lederman ruled that there was no "rational basis" to deny Gill's adoption. She further concluded Florida's adoption ban was unconstitutional, but the state immediately appealed the decision, which prevented it from being applied to other judicial courts.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has taken up the case. The Third District Court of Appeal will begin to hear oral arguments on Aug. 26, but the case will likely reach the state Supreme Court.

In preparation, a coalition of LGBT organizations around the state have stepped up a public awareness campaign, created a speakers bureau, recruited and trained volunteers to speak on the issue and conducted media training sessions to teach Floridians how to write op-eds for their local newspapers.

"The case was monumental and really provided a starting point, not only for this family, but also for a dialogue to continue through the legal courts in the state," CJ Ortu?o, executive director of SAVE Dade, an LGBT rights organization involved with the effort, said. "It's extremely significant to a game plan that could repeal the adoption ban."

Robert Rosenwald, director of the ACLU of Florida's LGBT Advocacy Project, is one of Gill's representatives in the case.

"We're optimistic that, based on the evidence that the trial court heard, there is no court that could in good faith find there is any child welfare basis for the ban."

"Legal victories in court won't do it unless peoples' hearts and minds are changed around the state as well," he said. "We're optimistic that, based on the evidence that the trial court heard, there is no court that could in good faith find there is any child welfare basis for the ban."

Florida is one of the only states to expressly ban adoption for same-sex partners, though it does allow for foster parenting. The prohibition, which is a remnant of Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign, came into effect in 1977, but recent polls indicate fewer Floridians support it. A Quinnipiac University poll of 1,370 Floridians conducted in January, for example, found 55 percent of all respondents disapproved of the existing ban.

The Liberty Council and other socially conservative organizations, however, have repeatedly blocked any attempts to repeal the law.

"Common sense and human history underscore the fact that children need a mother and a father," Liberty Council president and general counsel Mathew D. Staver said in a 2005 press release.

Many psychological and children's welfare groups from across the nation have filed briefs in support of Gill and the ACLU. These include the American Psychological Association, the Child Welfare League of America and the Center for Adoption Policy. The groups have noted the state's 3,500 foster children currently awaiting adoption as a major factor in their decision to oppose the ban.

"Ultimately, the debate is really over," Ortu?o continued. "Most, if not all, of the major children's welfare and psychological associations and institutions believe that any categorical or systemic ban on a group of individuals is bad for the children, and that's what this is about."

And despite the political ramifications of the court's decision, the case remains deeply personal for Gill and his family.

"Everyone in the case - from the state to the experts and scientists - agrees that it's in the best interest of the two little kids in this case to remain with their dads," Rosenwald added. "We're hopeful that the appeals court will not tear them from their family."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to to read more of his work.

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