Florida Trial Court Opens Way For Lesbians And Gay Men To Adopt

jeff's picture

MIAMI – A Florida circuit court today struck down a Florida law that bars lesbians and gay men from adopting. The court granted adoptions to a gay man, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, who has been raising two foster children since 2004.

“Our family just got a lot more to be thankful for this Thanksgiving,” said Martin Gill, a North Miami resident who is raising two brothers, four and eight, with his partner. “We are extremely relieved that the court has recognized that it is wrong to deny our boys the legal protections and security that only come with adoption.”

The court ruled that the ban violated the equal protection guarantees of the state constitution because it singles out for different treatment gay people and the children they raise for no rational reason. The court also found that the ban denies children the right to permanency provided by federal and state law under the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.

“While the decision will be welcome news to many lesbian and gay Floridians, the children in Florida foster care are the real winners today,” said Leslie Cooper, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project and a member of the legal team that tried the case. “The court put the interest of the children first, recognizing that the gay ban served no legitimate purpose and only made it more difficult for the state to find homes for the many children in foster care.”

The court’s decision comes after a four-day trial in October where the court heard from experts on children’s health and development and listened to the justifications offered by the state for the ban. In reaching its decision, the court rejected the false assumptions and stereotypes about gay people presented by the state, holding that many “reports and studies find that there are no differences in the parenting of homosexuals or the adjustment of their children. These conclusions have been accepted, adopted and ratified by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatry Association, the American Pediatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Child Welfare League of America and the National Association of Social Workers. As a result, based on the robust nature of the evidence available in the field, this Court is satisfied that the issue is so far beyond dispute that it would be irrational to hold otherwise; the best interests of children are not preserved by prohibiting homosexual adoption.”

The court also rejected claims by the state that children do better when raised in homes with a mother and a father and that children raised by gay parents face social stigma. The court found, “. . . the professionals and the major associations now agree there is well established and accepted consensus in the field that there is no optimal gender combination of parents.”

“Judge Lederman made clear today that it violates every rule of decency and fairness to threaten to tear a four-year-old boy from the only home he has ever known, and to send him to strangers who don’t even know him simply because his beloved Papi is gay,” said Robert Rosenwald, Director of the LGBT Project of the ACLU of Florida and one of the attorneys who tried the case.

Martin Gill and his partner of more than eight years became foster parents to the two boys on December 11, 2004. The couple, who had been parents to seven other foster children over the years, was initially told that the placement would be temporary, but a plan to place the children with their grandmother fell through. Both boys had significant health problems when they arrived in the home. The older boy, who was four at the time, was withdrawn and didn’t speak. Today both boys are healthy, have lots of friends and are doing well in school. The older boy started out behind educationally and had to repeat the first grade, but with the couple’s help, he has progressed significantly.

The Florida law barring lesbians and gay men from adopting is the most expansive anti-gay parenting law in the country. It was passed in 1977 in response to an anti-gay crusade led by former Miss America and Florida orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant.

In addition to Cooper and Rosenwald, Gill is represented by James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project and Shelbi Day, a Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Florida. The children are represented by Hilarie Bass and Ricardo Gonzalez of Greenberg Traurig, and Charles Auslander, an attorney and former District Administrator for Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF).

For additional information about the case, including a video and podcast of Martin Gill talking about his experiences as a foster parent as well as a copy of today’s decision and a copy of the trial transcript, visit www.aclu.org/gill.