Last edited: March 28, 2004

ACLU Asks Appeals Court to Reconsider Florida Adoption Ruling

The Advocate, February 19, 2004

A recent decision by a federal appeals court to uphold Florida’s total ban on adoptions by gays and lesbians failed to adequately consider the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in the Texas sodomy case, argued the American Civil Liberties Union. So on Wednesday the ACLU asked the 11th circuit U.S. court of appeals in Atlanta to reconsider its decision. “The appeals court completely misunderstood the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which says that states can no longer make up reasons to discriminate against gay people,” said Matt Coles, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “Sexual orientation has nothing to do with a person’s ability to parent, and this law has nothing to do with child welfare. For the sake of the thousands of children in Florida in need of a home, we hope the court will reconsider.”

The three-judge panel that issued the decision could agree to reconsider the case, the full court could decide to do so, or the court could decline to rehear the case at all. “The Florida law was passed to punish gay people, but the sad, harsh reality is that it harms the 4,800 children who are languishing in Florida’s foster care system and waiting to be adopted into permanent, loving homes,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “While Florida claims the law is justified because children should be with married mothers and fathers, these children don’t have any permanent family. For a court to accept this justification flies in the face of our constitution.”

The ACLU brought the lawsuit in 1998 on behalf of four gay men who wanted to adopt in Florida but were prevented from doing so by the adoption ban. The law was passed in 1977 in response to Anita Bryant’s infamous antigay campaign. On January 29, a three-judge panel of the 11th circuit U.S. court of appeals issued a decision upholding the law.

While the state currently will not let gay people adopt, it does rely on gay people to be foster parents. 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. Although the Florida children—two 16-year-olds and a 12-year-old—have never known any other family, they cannot be adopted by Lofton or Croteau because of Florida’s law. Wayne Smith and Dan Skahen have willingly taken in many foster children over the years and are now foster parents to six children. Doug Houghton has been the legal guardian of an 11-year-old boy for seven years. Even though the child’s biological father wants Houghton to be the legal parent, Houghton can’t adopt because of Florida’s law.

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