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Despite Same-Sex Marriage Ruling, Gay Adoption Rights Remain Restricted in Florida

| August 19, 2015

Casanova and Daniel Nurse stand with children Ava Rose, 2, and Neijal and Cameron, both 4, whom they adopted from Florida’s foster care system. (Crystal Keith)

Casanova and Daniel Nurse stand with children Ava Rose, 2, and Neijal and Cameron, both 4, whom they adopted from Florida’s foster care system. (Crystal Keith)

As soon as Daniel Nurse met baby Cameron in 2011, he knew he wanted to adopt him.

“It was just like instant love. He was so sweet and loving, and seeing him smile—it was just an instant connection,” Nurse, of Tallahassee, said of the baby, then 11 months old.

But going about adopting Cameron proved challenging for Nurse and his husband, Casanova. Florida’s 1977 ban on gay adoption had only recently been overturned when the Nurses began looking to take in foster children in 2011 with the hope of ultimately adopting them.

While same-sex couples have long been able to adopt from private, gay-friendly adoption agencies, adopting children from the foster care system has proved more difficult in some states.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that made same-sex marriage legal nationwide is changing that, but not everywhere—particularly in states with laws that limit joint adoption to a husband and wife.

“Marriage doesn’t create this completely certain playing field,” said Ellen Kahn, director of the children, youth and families program at the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights.

And some states have taken up legislation that would allow taxpayer-funded contractors that oversee state adoptions to refuse to let gay or lesbian individuals adopt children if it conflicts with the organization’s religious beliefs. Michigan passed such a law right before the court decision.

The Nurses became familiar with all these roadblocks when adopting Cameron and their two other children.

The couple found they were limited in which contractors they could work with because some wouldn’t allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt. And though Florida’s ban on gay adoption was overturned in 2010, the Nurses were unable to marry in the state until this year. Thus, they couldn’t file adoption paperwork together. The adoptions had to be filed under Daniel’s name only, and the couple faced the added time and expense of adding Casanova’s name later.

Change Comes State by State

Thirteen states—Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas—prohibited same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court decision.

All but Arkansas and Tennessee also had policies that did not allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt foster children jointly, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In Alabama, where a federal court overruled the state’s ban on gay marriage, gay couples were also not allowed to adopt jointly.

But many of those states are changing their policies in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision. That’s the case in North Dakota, where the law allows single people to adopt but specifies that adopting couples must be “husband and wife.”

“It’s simple,” said Julie Hoffman, adoptions administrator for the state Department of Human Services. “Now that gay couples are allowed to marry, they’ll be treated like any other married couple who’s adopting.”

Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and South Dakota also are changing their practices to allow married gay couples to go through the adoption process together. Some of them said they’re starting to update their forms to make them gender neutral.

In Alabama, married gay couples will be allowed to adopt a foster child, but they’ll have to wait longer than most—the state requires married couples interested in adopting to have been married for a year before beginning the adoption process.

stateline logo analysisMississippi is the only state that has a law that specifically bars gay couples from adopting foster children, and Julia Bryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, said the law will be followed unless the legislature makes any changes when it reconvenes in January. However, the ban is being challenged in the courts.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services also will wait on the legislature before changing how it operates, according to spokeswoman Julie Moody. Gay couples in the state will have to continue to have one member of the couple formally adopt the child, she said, and then the other member has to come back later to do a second parent adoption—a similar process to a step parent adopting a stepchild.

Nebraska policy prevented unmarried couples, gay or straight, from fostering or adopting state wards until 2012, when the state started allowing gay couples to become foster parents, ultimately placing foster children with 15 same-sex couples, according to the Omaha World Herald.

A county judge recently struck down the unmarried couple ban. But the state is planning to challenge that, saying that the broad scope of the order would require its Department of Health and Human Services to treat “unrelated, unmarried adults residing together” the same as it treats individuals and married couples. A statement from the Attorney General’s Office said that would make it more difficult to make placements in the best interest of the child.

Religious Interests

Although the court decision is leading to changes in some states, others are creating new roadblocks to gay adoption.

Michigan is one of the first states to enact a law that allows groups that contract with the state to oversee adoptions to decline service to any person or couple that conflicts with their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Similar bills were considered in Alabama, Florida and Texas.

Republican state Rep. Thomas Hooker, who worked on the Michigan bill, said he was worried that if the state didn’t pass the law, it might have lost the roughly 30 percent of adoption agencies the state contracts with that are religiously affiliated.

That has happened in other states. Some Catholic organizations in Illinois andMassachusetts shut down rather than violate their conscience by serving gay couples.

But opponents of the Michigan law say its language is too broad, giving religious organizations leeway to discriminate against not just gay couples, but single people, interracial couples, people of other faiths or anybody who they say conflicts with their faith.

“Discrimination shouldn’t be happening at all, and it shouldn’t be done using taxpayer dollars,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, an advocacy group that lobbied against the law.

Hooker said the law doesn’t pose a disadvantage to gay couples because the organizations will have to refer anyone they turn down to an organization that is willing to serve them.

While religious groups often argue that same-sex parents could be damaging to children, nearly all research has found the opposite. A 2015 project at Columbia University assembled scholarly, peer-reviewed studies on the well-being of children with gay parents. Of 77 studies, just four found that having gay parents negatively impacts a child.

Even in states that require agencies to work with gay couples, there are no guarantees against discrimination in deciding whether to allow them to adopt.

“It’s easy to find a way to say no to a couple. It’s easy to prioritize some couples over others,” said April Dinwoodie, chief executive of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, which researches adoption policy. She said if case workers have a bias, “they can find something within a home study that doesn’t suit them or find a reason a child wouldn’t be a good fit for a home.”

‘Love Is Love’

Daniel Nurse went to Florida’s Capitol earlier this year to testify against a bill that would have protected state contractors’ ability to turn him away. He put up pictures of his family. In addition to Cameron, now 4, the couple has adopted Neijal, also 4, and Ava Rose, 2.

Nurse questioned how someone could look at faces like those and argue they didn’t deserve the home that they now have.

“Love is unconditional. Love is love, and it’s what these children deserve,” Nurse said. “A person’s lifestyle shouldn’t matter if they can provide love and compassion.”

The bill passed in the House, but later died in the Senate. It was a big year for gay rights in Florida. The legislature also passed a bill that formally removed the 1977 ban on gay adoption from law. This wasn’t just a symbolic move—it was an appellate court that overturned the ban, but the matter never came before the state’s Supreme Court.

–Rebecca Beitsch, Stateline

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14 Responses for “Despite Same-Sex Marriage Ruling, Gay Adoption Rights Remain Restricted in Florida”

  1. Bill says:

    As well they should. just because two homosexual’s can be “married” does not mean they should be given the same position in adopting. Normal couples should be first in line then gays then single people in my opinion. Its not about the ones who look to adopt but what would be best overall for the kid.

  2. Lancer says:

    So…people who choose to be homosexuals know, full well, they cannot have children. However, they should be allowed to adopt children??

    I’m sure this makes sense in a leftist mind.

    • Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

      I presume that this applies to people that are born as homosexuals as well, and probably also applies to couples that are sterile and cannot have children, as well as older people that have hit menopause and are therefore unable to have kids. Your point?

      • Lancer says:

        No definitive evidence that homosexuals are “born that way”.

        If that were so, you’re belief would mean that every prisoner who engages in homosexual behavior was “born that way”.

  3. Bill says:

    People don’t choose to be homosexuals or not. Lancer When did you CHOOSE your sexuial orientation??

  4. Katie Seamore says:

    I think bigots should not be allowed to adopt children and that would include many who have posted their bigoted opinions above.

  5. KB63 says:

    22 years ago when I adopted my daughter I was told that if it had not been a private adoption I would never have been able to do it. Why – because (aghast!) her skin was a different color than ours. The pure ignorance that we dealt with was mind boggling. That baby was raised with an enormous amount of love and affection and has become a responsible, caring adult who is the light of our lives. Children who are loved, taught, nurtured and cared for in a stable environment by no matter what gender or what their sexual preference may be will become productive, caring adults. How dare anyone try to deny children or anyone of a chance for love just because it is different from what they know.

  6. Lancer says:

    Wonderful, heart stirring comments…and not a bit of logic in, virtually, any of them.

    First, homosexuality will never, ever be accepted by many. Tolerance should be the goal. Homosexual behavior doesn’t infringe on my rights in anyway. Morally, I believe its wrong but, you’ll never see me seeking laws against them…it’s what is called “the double edged sword of freedom”.

    Next, homosexuals cannot have children, impossible. This is not because of a medical condition, this is because of their lifestyle choices. One can argue they are “born that way”. However, there is absolutely no definitive evidence that this is true. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that sexual abuse received as children leads to this lifestyle for many. A horrible and terrible truth that many choose to ignore. Prisons are filled with those who engage in homosexual behavior…again, by choice.

    If you make a decision to be a homosexual, you have chosen a pattern of lifestyle that is impossible to have children. Then, why should they be allowed to adopt children? It’s like a leftist moving to communist china, finding out they don’t like the reality of it and insisting, then, on more individual freedom.

    Perhaps, you people need to use a little less emotional thinkings and dust the cobwebs off your brains.

  7. devrie says:

    It’s ridiculous that people can’t fathom people don’t “make a decision” to become gay. Gay people are pretty much normal people who live normal lives and do normal stuff. There are gay, straight, and transgender creepos in the world, but being gay doesn’t a creepo make.

    There is zero reason why a person who cannot be sexually, emotionally, and genuinely connected in a unionion sort-of-way to the opposite sex, no matter how hard they’d try, be excluded from the same type of life others lead.

    The questions isn’t whether the kind of stuff they do to connect with eachother behind closed doors is “okay with” the rest of us. It’s, can they be decent parents?

    Why exclude people from wanting to raise children in a loving and caring environment just because they are gay? Are there psychological studies showing gay married couples are bad parents? Is there some sort of confirmation on this? If they meet all the other general guidelines for becoming parents, why not?

    It’s absurd to let children linger in foster homes or in bad situations because some people refuse to believe that sexuality and the love that comes with it isn’t a flippant choice people make.

  8. Katie Seamore says:

    Only an incredibly stupid person would think that an American leftist and a communist is the same thing. That same person would most likely also confuse a person who has an ingrained longing for a loving relationship with a partner of the same sex with criminals who resort to the opportunity of their circumstances.
    The same incredibly stupid people must be equally confused about most things and sadly they are allowed to breed and influence their offspring.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Gooddddd

  10. Sherry E says:

    Katie Seamore says. . . you go girl! Most intelligent, educated, open minded people would completely agree with you!

    • YankeeExPat says:

      Trumpism for the day; Friday August 21, 2015

      Orphans Lost their parents………….I don’t accept Losers………….Orphans are Losers!

      Republican Candidate Donald Trump 2016

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