Last edited: March 28, 2004

ACLU Cites Lawrence in Florida Case

Datalounge, July 23, 2003

ATLANTA—Citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas that overturned state sodomy laws, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a supplemental brief with a Florida appeals court, urging it to declare the state’s gay adoption ban discriminatory and unconstitutional. Matt Coles of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project said the language used by the high court majority only strengthens his organization’s contention that the Florida law would not withstand judicial review. “The Supreme Court has now made it crystal clear that laws that discriminate against gay people will no longer fly,” he said.

“By placing foster children with gay parents, the state already acknowledges that gay people make good parents,” Coles continued. “The anti-gay adoption law is discrimination pure and simple. The state has no legitimate basis for excluding such a large number of potential parents from adopting and has lost its only remaining argument for doing so.”

In Lawrence, the Supreme Court explicitly overturned its 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, which Florida relied on to justify the ban on gay adoptions. In reaching its decision, the Court said that states cannot have laws that “demean” the lives of gay people and recognized that the gay and lesbian struggle for equality under law is but the latest chapter in the nation’s long civil rights struggle. “The Supreme Court’s decision to end prejudice against gay people may very well have the unexpected benefit of helping the 3,400 children in Florida foster care who are in need of permanent homes,” said Coles.

The law that excludes gay people from adopting was passed by the state legislature in 1977, in the midst of Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade. The bill’s sponsor in the state senate told a local newspaper at the time that the law was intended to send this message to lesbians and gay men: “[w]e are really tired of you. We wish you’d go back in the closet.”

Though gay couples are barred from becoming adoptive parents, the state relies on gay people to be foster parents to children in need of stable homes. The ACLU points to this contradiction as a betrayal of the law’s basic premise: that gay people are not fit parents.

The ACLU, in conjunction with the ACLU of Florida, initially filed the lawsuit in 1998 seeking to end the adoption ban. A decision in the Florida case, which was argued before the Federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in March 2003, is expected over the next few months.

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