Last edited: March 28, 2004

Adoption Loss Has Gays Reeling

Opponents of Florida’s ban on adoptions by gays, disappointed in a court decision upholding the law, consider their options.

Miami Herald, January 30, 2004
1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132
Fax: 305-527-8955 or 305-376-8950

By Elaine De Valle,

Doug Houghton woke up Thursday and was still a father to 11-year-old Oscar.

Despite a federal court decision Wednesday to uphold Florida’s ban on adoptions by gays, someone had to make sure Oscar ate his breakfast, got dressed and went off to school. And the person who’s done that for most of his life is Houghton, the boy’s legal guardian since he was 3.

“I wish the judges could spend a weekend at our home,” a disappointed Houghton, 41, said Thursday. “Our lives are full, happy, interesting and healthy.

“I’ve raised this boy for eight years. He calls me ‘Daddy.”‘

Houghton, a trauma nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital, is one of four gay men who filed a lawsuit in 1999 claiming that the adoption ban violates their constitutional rights. The court ruling Wednesday was a setback for their case.

Many gay parents, children’s advocates and civil rights attorneys were reeling Thursday from the court decision. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the Florida law, had not yet decided whether it will appeal.

The lawsuit was filed by Houghton; Steven Lofton of Portland, Ore.; and Wayne Smith and Daniel Skahen of Key West. All are foster parents or guardians.

U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King of Miami threw out the suit in 2001. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with King in its Wednesday ruling, saying the judges found nothing in the U.S. Constitution forbidding the Florida Legislature’s policy decision against adoption by gays and lesbians.

Florida is the only state that has a law barring any gay person from adopting. Supporters of the ban, including Gov. Jeb Bush, say it’s in the best interest of children to be placed in homes with a mother and a father.

But Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said 25 percent of the foster children who are adopted statewide go to single-parent homes, with the number rising to 40 percent in Miami-Dade County.

Florida Department of Children & Families spokesman Bill Spann said there are 4,799 children across the state available for adoption, 1,440 of whom have no identified relatives, foster family or other adoptive prospects.

In Key West, where Smith and Skahen live, opponents of the ban held a rally at the gay and lesbian community center.

“It has never made sense to us how it is that we’re qualified to be legal guardians for children abused, abandoned and neglected by their natural—and, in most cases, heterosexual—parents, that we can be their foster parents, but we can’t be their adoptive parents,” Smith said at the rally.

Said Houghton, a Coconut Grove resident: “If [the judges] could see first-hand our father-son relationship and the type of life we lead together, I think they would have decided that it’s not OK for a state to discriminate against loving families like ours.”

Sandra Newson was still crying Thursday afternoon because she and her partner, Denise Hueso, cannot adopt the 16-year-old foster child they have cared for this past year. Steven, who will be 17 next week, went through 17 homes since he was taken into state custody at age 10.

“Today, he’s vice president of his school’s student government association and gets A’s and B’s. He’s going to go to college. He’s going to survive the foster-care system,” she said. “But he wants a permanent connection to us.”

Advocates said they were particularly disappointed by the ruling in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings to protect the rights of gays.

“From the beginning, we always felt we had the better of the argument in this case and that we’re right that this is unconstitutional,” ACLU attorney Leslie Cooper said. “But especially after the Lawrence decision, where the Supreme Court made very sweeping statements about the rights of homosexuals and the constitutional right to form intimate relationships, whether between same-sex or different-sex partners.

“After that decision, we expected better.”

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court—hearing Lawrence vs. Texas—outlawed bans on gay sex in Texas. In that ruling and a 1996 decision to strike down a Colorado amendment that would deny legal protection from discrimination against gays, justices said that laws that deny rights to homosexuals on the basis of moral antipathy are not constitutional.

Considering the U.S. Supreme Court rulings and the Nov. 18 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to allow gay civil marriages, opponents of Florida’s ban saw the climate as ripe for change.

“This was a terrible defeat,” Simon said. “But in our lifetime, maybe in the history of this country for the last 100 years, every significant movement for human rights has involved setbacks.

“I don’t think this decision is going to stand the test of time,” Simon said. “We’ve got a number of different legal options, and our attorneys have not made any final decision about what our next course of action is going to be.”

Cooper said that decision would probably be made within a week.

  • Herald staff writer Cara Buckley contributed to this report.

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