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Florida ban on gay adoptions ruled unconstitutional

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On Nov. 4, Arkansas voters approved a ban on adoption by unmarried couples. The purpose of the ballot measure, according to the Family Council Action Committee, was "to blunt a homosexual agenda that's at work in other states and that will be at work in Arkansas unless we are proactive about doing something about it."

On Nov. 25, a court in Florida pointed out something that the Family Council Action Committee and other anti-gay groups somehow manage to overlook: Allowing gay couples to adopt is much less about protecting gays than protecting children.

With that in mind, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman struck down a 1977 Florida law—the only one of its kind—that forbids gays from adopting. (Arkansas, Mississippi and Utah exclude unmarried couples, which has the completely intentional result of excluding gays.) In a case involving two young boys taken in by two gay men, she found the law was unconstitutional largely because it violated the rights of foster children to equal treatment under the law.

You could hardly find better proof than this that efforts to combat the "homosexual agenda" mainly serve to harm children in dire need of stable, loving families. Four years ago, Martin Gill and his longtime partner agreed to provide a foster home for two boys, one 4 years old and the other an infant, who showed the physical and emotional effects of neglect, including scalp ringworm.

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Now a legal guardian who regularly observes the boys attests that they are, in the judge's words, "in excellent health, well-behaved, performing well in school and bonded to" their foster family. They have a dog, a cat and a rabbit. They attend a church.

But they have also spent four years in limbo. The adults whom they have come to regard as parents were only foster caregivers. Because of his sexual orientation, the state would not allow Gill to become their permanent, adoptive father.

No one else has asked to adopt the boys. Yet the Center for Family and Child Enrichment, which handles these matters, concluded that if the brothers could not be adopted by Gill, it would have to look for other adoptive parents.

Consider the implications of the policy in this case. It would mean removing the children from the home in which they have been raised—"one of the most caring and nurturing placements" the guardian has ever seen. It would mean putting them through the trauma, once again, of being uprooted and placed with complete strangers. And because of the difficulty of placing kids their age, the child enrichment center said, it could mean the brothers would be permanently separated from each other.

And for what? Solely to shield them from the supposed perils of gay parents. Gays are treated as more dangerous than felons, drug offenders and known child abusers—none of whom is categorically barred from adopting.

As it happens, those dangers are mostly imaginary. According to evidence cited by the judge, gays are slightly more likely than heterosexuals to suffer psychiatric problems, engage in substance abuse and smoke, but so are lots of other groups that are allowed to adopt. The American Psychological Association says it finds no difference between the parenting of homosexuals and heterosexuals.

Would orphaned and abandoned children be better off if every one of them could be raised by stable, loving, heterosexual couples? Possibly. But that's not an option. For many children, the alternative to having gay adoptive parents is having no parents at all.

There are hundreds of kids in Florida who need adoptive families—nearly 1,000 at any given moment. The average child spends 21/2 years in foster care before being adopted, and some wait forever. Noted Judge Lederman, "165 children in Florida aged out of the system in 2006 without ever being adopted."

The Florida ban is simple and stark. It says, in effect, that a child may not be adopted by gays even when the adoption is in the best interest of the child. That's the main reason the court overturned it: It violates the rights of children and "causes harm to the children it is meant to protect."

Those who want to keep gays from adopting think that's a small price to pay for blocking the "homosexual agenda." But then, they're not the ones who will be paying it.

Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune's editorial board and blogs at chicagotribune.com/chapman
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replied November 30th, 2008
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A Miami-Dade circuit judge Tuesday declared Florida's 30-year-old ban on gay adoption unconstitutional, allowing a North Miami man to adopt two foster kids he has raised since 2004.

In a 53-page order that sets the stage for what could become a constitutional showdown, Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman permitted 47-year-old Frank Gill to adopt the 4- and 8-year-old boys he and his partner have raised since just before Christmas four years ago. A child abuse investigator had asked Gill to care for the boys temporarily; they were never able to return to their birth parents.

''This is the forum where we try to heal children, find permanent families for them so they can get another chance at what every child should know and feel from birth, and go on to lead productive lives,'' Lederman said in court before releasing the order. ``We pray for them to thrive, but that is a word we rarely hear in dependency court.''

''These children are thriving; it is uncontroverted,'' the judge added.

Moments after Lederman released the ruling, attorneys for Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announced they would appeal the decision to the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami.

''We respect the court's decision,'' said attorney Valerie Martin, who had argued in support of the ban during a weeklong trial Oct. 1-6. But, she added: ``Based upon the wishes of our client, the Department of Children & Families, we have filed a notice of appeal this morning.''

The attorney general's office had argued that gay men and lesbians are disproportionately more likely to suffer from mental illness or a substance abuse problem than straight people, rendering them less fit to parent -- especially children in foster care who already are under tremendous stress.

Gov. Charlie Crist, a former attorney general who has expressed support for the adoption ban, declined to comment Tuesday, saying he hadn't yet reviewed the ruling.

Gill, who is raising the half-brothers with his partner of eight years, said he was ''elated'' by the ruling.

''I cried tears of joy for the first time in my life,'' he told reporters outside Miami's juvenile courthouse at 3300 NW 27th Ave. His mother appeared with him in court.

The ban on adoption by gay families, he said, does not lead to more children being raised in traditional households, since foster and adoptive families have long been in short supply in Florida.

Instead, he said, ``It results in more children being left without any parents at all. They don't have a mom or a dad.''

Lederman, who overseas Miami's juvenile and child welfare courts, is the second judge this year to declare the state's blanket ban on adoption by gay men and lesbians unconstitutional.

In August, Monroe Circuit Judge David John Audlin Jr. wrote that Florida's 1977 gay adoption ban arose out of ''unveiled expressions of bigotry'' when the state was experiencing a severe backlash to demands for civil rights by gay people in Miami.

''Disqualifying every gay Floridian from raising a family, enjoying grandchildren or carrying on the family name, based on nothing more than lawful sexual conduct, while assuring child abusers, terrorists, drug dealers, rapists and murderers at least individualized consideration, `` Audlin wrote, was so ``disproportionately severe'' that it violates the state and U.S. Constitutions.

In her ruling, Lederman said children taken into state care have a ''fundamental'' right to be raised in a permanent adoptive home if they cannot be reunited with birth parents. Children whose foster parents are gay, she said, can be deprived of that right under the current law.

''The challenged statute, in precluding otherwise qualified homosexuals from adopting available children, does not promote the interests of children and, in effect, causes harm to the children it is meant to protect,'' Lederman wrote.

The judge added: ``There is no question the blanket exclusion of gay applicants defeats Florida's goal of providing [foster] children a permanent family through adoption.''

In a ruling that, at times, reads more like a social science research paper, Lederman dissected 30 years worth of psychological and sociological research, concluding that studies overwhelmingly have shown that gay people can parent every bit as effectively as straight people and do no harm to their children.

''Based on the evidence presented from experts from all over this country and abroad,'' Lederman wrote, ``it is clear that sexual orientation is not a predictor of a person's ability to parent. Sexual orientation no more leads to psychiatric disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, relationship instability, a lower life expectancy or sexual disorders than race, gender, socioeconomic class or any other demographic characteristic.

''The most important factor in ensuring a well-adjusted child is the quality of parenting,'' Lederman wrote.

Marc Caputo of The Miami Herald's Tallahassee bureau contributed to this story.
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replied November 30th, 2008
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Judge overturns Florida ban on adoption by gays
By Taylor Gandossy
CNN


(CNN) -- A Florida circuit judge Tuesday struck down a 31-year-old state law that prevents gays and lesbians from adopting children, allowing a North Miami man to adopt two half-brothers he and his partner have raised as foster children since 2004.
Martin Gill looks on as a judge overturns a ban preventing gays and lesbians from adopting children.

Martin Gill looks on as a judge overturns a ban preventing gays and lesbians from adopting children.

"There is no question, the blanket exclusion of gay applicants defeats Florida's goal of providing dependent children a permanent family through adoption," Judge Cindy S. Lederman wrote in her 53-page ruling.

"The best interests of children are not preserved by prohibiting homosexual adoption."

The state attorney general's office has appealed the decision.

Lederman said there is no moral or scientific reason for banning gays and lesbians from adopting, despite the state's arguments otherwise. The state argued that gays and lesbians have higher odds of suffering from depression, affective and anxiety disorders and substance abuse, and that their households are more unstable.

Lederman said the ban violated children's right to permanency provided under the Florida statute and under the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. Whether the ban violated the state's equal protection clause by singling out gays and lesbians should be considered, she said.

Lederman's ruling paves the way for Martin Gill to legally adopt the two half-brothers, ages 4 and 8, whom he has cared for since December 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The two boys, who are referred to as John and James Doe in court documents, were removed from their homes on allegations of abandonment and neglect.
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"On that December evening, John and James left a world of chronic neglect, emotional impoverishment and deprivation to enter a new world, foreign to them, that was nurturing, safe, structured and stimulating," Lederman wrote.

In 2006, the children's respective fathers' rights were terminated, court documents said, and they remained in the care of Gill and his partner.

"Our family just got a lot more to be thankful for this Thanksgiving," Gill said Tuesday, according to the ACLU, which represented him.

Florida is the only state that specifically bans all "homosexual" people from adopting children, although it does allow them to be foster parents.

This month, Arkansas voters approved a ballot measure to prohibit unmarried partners -- same-sex or opposite-sex couples -- from adopting children or from serving as foster parents. The measure is similar to one in Utah, which excludes same-sex couples indirectly through a statute barring all unmarried couples from adopting or taking in foster children.

Mississippi allows single gays and lesbians to adopt, but prohibits same-sex couples from adopting.

Neal Skene, spokesman for the Florida Department of Children and Families, said the appeal was filed so a statewide resolution on the law could be determined by an appellate court. He noted that another Florida circuit judge declared the law unconstitutional this year but that ruling had not been appealed.

"We need a statewide determination by the appellate courts," he said.

Gill's adoption petition cannot be approved until the appeal process is finished, Skene said, but the children will remain in Gill's home.

"These are wonderful foster parents," Skene said. "It's just that we have a statute, [and] the statute is very clear on the issue of adoption."

Several organizations -- including the National Adoption Center, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics -- have said that having gay and lesbian parents does not negatively affect children.

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies adoption and foster care, hailed the decision.

"This ban, which was the only one of its kind in the country, has done nothing but undermine the prospects of boys and girls in the foster care system to get permanent, loving homes," said Adam Pertman, the Adoption Institute's executive director, in a written statement.

"So this decision by Judge Lederman is a very important, hopeful ruling for children who need families."
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replied December 3rd, 2008
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Yay!!

Children need proper homes! Who cares if its a gay or lesbian couple adopting?
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Users who thank JYoungBear for this post: homerx 

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replied December 3rd, 2008
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AMEN! I know my parents sucked at parenting and were separated several times,fought like cats and dogs,drank like fish and divorced and remarried more than once...so where is the sanctity in that?! And it was horrible on us kids..I would much rather be in a stable home as a child be it a man and woman,2 men or 2 women...progress is coming ... slow and steady wins the race.
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replied December 3rd, 2008
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homerx wrote:
AMEN! I know my parents sucked at parenting and were separated several times,fought like cats and dogs,drank like fish and divorced and remarried more than once...so where is the sanctity in that?! And it was horrible on us kids..I would much rather be in a stable home as a child be it a man and woman,2 men or 2 women...progress is coming ... slow and steady wins the race.


Yes, exactly!

I didn't come from the best of homes myself, but seriously... As long as the people involved in the adoption are fit to be parents and give the children what they need in regards to a home, it does no matter!

I can't wait to see what comes of this.
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Users who thank JYoungBear for this post: homerx