Last edited: March 28, 2004

Supreme Court Ruling Helps Gay Parents Florida Suit Says, July 21, 2003

By Doreen Brandt, Newscenter, Washington Bureau

Washington, D.C.—The American Civil Liberties Union today urged the appeals court considering the fate of Florida’s ban on adoption by gays and lesbians to heed the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. In a supplemental brief filed today, the ACLU said that the recent decision from the High Court further strengthens its argument that the adoption ban is unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court has now made it crystal clear that laws that discriminate against gay people will no longer fly,” said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

“By placing foster children with gay parents, the state already acknowledges that gay people make good parents. 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 struck down a Texas law that made some forms of sexual intimacy a crime for gay people. The 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 can’t have laws that “demean” the lives of gay people and must respect gay relationships.

“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,” added Coles.

Even though the state prevents lesbian and gay men from adopting, it relies on gay people to be foster parents to children in need of stable homes. Two of the three families represented by the ACLU in the case are raising Florida foster children. Steven Lofton and his partner Roger Croteau are raising five children, including three foster children from Florida. Wayne Smith and Dan Skahen are now foster parents to two children. The other plaintiff, Doug Houghton, has been the legal guardian of an 11-year-old boy for seven years.

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.”

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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