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Ending 33-Year Disgrace, Appeals Court Rules Florida’s Gay Adoption Ban Unconstitutional (Updated)

| September 22, 2010

gay adoption florida

Finally. (Petras Gagilas)

Frank Martin Gill is a foster parent. In 2004, the state delivered two boys to his care. One child was 4 years old, one was 4 months old. They’d been removed from their home because of abandonment and neglect. When the boys were delivered to Gill, the 4 year old was wearing a dirty, adult-size t-shirt and sneakers four sizes too small. Both had ringworms. The younger boy had an untreated ear infection. The 4 year old would not speak. His main concern, according to court papers, was changing, feeding and caring for his baby brother.

Gill turned the boys’ lives around. They thrived. Gill wanted to adopt them. The state forbade him to do so. The reason: Gill is openly gay. The state has no issue with gays or lesbians being foster parents for virtually the entire childhood years of any individual. But a 1977 law made Florida the only state where gay parenting is banned outright. Some states ban gay couples from adopting, but not gay individuals.

The law was the result of a campaign by the singer Anita Bryant, who equated homosexuality with bestiality and thought homosexuals would infect children with homosexuality. (“Of course it’s not just an overnight thing,” she told an interviewer in 1978. “What happens is that the door then opens onto a lot of other things. It may not have an immediate effect, but certainly down the line it weill—on your kids and your grandchildren, for generations to come.”) Several legislators who’d supported the 1977 law subsequently denounced their vote and urged its repeal.

“The ban has kept me from adopting the two boys who have known me as Papi for the past six years. This deprives them of the emotional security of knowing they are part of a forever family,” Gill said this week.

On Wednesday, the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami ruled Florida’s law banning gay adoption unconstitutional.

“Given a total ban on adoption by homosexual persons, one might expect that this reflected a legislative judgment that homosexual persons are, as a group, unfit to be parents,” In this case, “no one attempts to justify the prohibition on homosexual adoption on any theory that homosexual persons are unfit to be parents.” The ruling, written by Judge Gerald B. Cope Jr., adds: “It is difficult to see any rational basis in utilizing homosexual persons as foster parents or guardians on a temporary or permanent basis, while imposing a blanket prohibition on adoption by those same persons.”

The judge also dismissed the state’s argument that there was any scientific evidence declaring homosexuals unfit parents, including the claim, long ago discredited but repeated by an “expert” witness during the trail, that “homosexuals are less able to provide a stable home for children than heterosexuals.” Those and many other arguments put forth by the state “do not provide a reasonable basis for allowing homosexual foster parenting or guardianships while imposing a prohibition on adoption,” the court ruled.

The 3-0 decision signals the end of Florida’s most enduring form of outright discrimination. Gov. Charlie Crist, calling the ruling “great,” almost immediately declared that the state would no longer enforce the ban regardless. Cope was joined in the ruling by Frank Shepherd and Vance Salter, who wrote a concurring opinion.

“Finally, a piece of 30-year-old prejudice has been struck from the law books in Florida,” Howard Simon, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida and represented Gill, told the Miami Herald after the ruling.  “This is good news for the advancement of human rights and the children in Florida’s troubled foster-care system.”

The case is not necessarily over. Gill wanted to appeal the original decision to the state Supreme Court, for a final judgment. Attorney General Bill McCollum may yet appeal the decision.

“I understand that the Governor would like to hear my views in considering whether to appeal the decision,” Gills aid. “After considerable thought and consultation with my attorneys at the ACLU, it is my hope that the State will not appeal and the case will stop here.”

Gill added: “I understand that if the State does not appeal this decision, it will apply to all Floridians and put an end to this baseless law that has harmed my kids and so many other children and families.

“I am eager to adopt my two children and to remove this barrier to adoption for other children as soon as possible. Ending this case now would be the quickest way for that to happen.”

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