Last edited: March 28, 2004

Gay Men Appeal Federal Decision Upholding Florida’s Ban on Gay Adoptions

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, February 20, 2004
200 E. Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
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By Maya Bell, Miami Bureau

MIAMI—Four gay men hoping to adopt the children they are raising asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to reconsider last month’s decision upholding Florida’s law prohibiting homosexuals from adopting.

In requesting a rehearing, the men’s attorneys argued that the Jan. 28 ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals conflicts with last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision tossing out Texas’ sodomy law and decriminalizing homosexual intimacy between consenting adults across the nation.

“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 Lesbian and Gay Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In its opinion that Texas’ sodomy law violated the privacy rights of gay and lesbians, the Supreme Court rejected that state’s contention that legislators may pass laws to express moral disapproval. That was the rationale Texas lawyers gave for criminalizing sex between consenting homosexual adults in 1973.

A three-judge panel with the Atlanta appeals court ruled, however, that the Lawrence decision had no bearing on Florida’s law because, other than their “shared homosexuality component,” there were marked differences between the two cases. Among them: The Texas case did not involve children; the Florida case does.

In asking the same three judges, or the entire 11-member court, to reconsider that decision, Coles and eight other lawyers argued the appeals court failed to recognize that, like Texas, Florida passed its ban to express its moral disapproval of gay people.

They noted that when legislators passed the ban at the height of singer Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade in 1977, the Senate sponsor said the law was designed to send a message to gay people: “We are really tired of you. We wish you’d go back in the closet.”

Casey Walker, a Vero Beach lawyer defending the statute for the state, expressed confidence the appeal would be rejected again. “Petitions like this are rarely granted, and there’s nothing new in it,” he said.

Throughout the case, Walker argued that legislators enacted the measure not only to express moral disapproval of homosexuality but to carry out their belief that children are best raised by a married mother and father.

Both the appeals court and U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King, who heard the original challenge in Miami, said the latter reason was plausible, making the law constitutional.

The ACLU brought the challenge in 1998 on behalf of Steven Lofton, a former Miamian now living in Oregon, and the 12-year-old boy he has raised since infancy; Miamian Doug Houghton, and the 12-year-old boy he has raised for eight years; and Wayne Smith and Daniel Skahen, a Key West couple and foster parents to six Florida children.

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