Florida's same-sex adoption ban: Who's for it, who's against it, and the chances for repeal

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click to enlarge YES OR NO: Martin Gill, at a St. Petersburg forum last Friday, with the FL adoption form that asks prospective adoptive parents to declare their sexual orientation. - Chip Weiner Photographic Arts
Chip Weiner Photographic Arts
YES OR NO: Martin Gill, at a St. Petersburg forum last Friday, with the FL adoption form that asks prospective adoptive parents to declare their sexual orientation.

The Sunshine State ranks in the bottom half of the country on various critical indexes, such as education spending (36th nationally), uninsured children (49th as of a year ago) and juvenile incarceration rates (48th, meaning we jail more juveniles than 47 other states).

But there's one stat where Florida is number one: We're the only state in the U.S. that explicitly bans gays and lesbians from adopting children.

That dubious distinction could soon change, however. In November of 2008, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman said the ban violated the state's equal protection guarantees by singling out gay parents (who can be foster parents but are barred from permanently adopting). She ruled in the case for Martin Gill, the North Miami flight attendant who wants to adopt his two foster sons, and concluded there was consensus among researchers that there is no reason to prohibit adoptions by gays and lesbians. Last August, the case went to a three-judge panel at the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami.

Attorney General Bill McCollum has spent a total of $383,000 in Florida taxpayers' money to fight Gill's challenge to the gay adoption ban. McCollum spent almost a third of that amount — $120,000 — on one of the two "expert" witnesses his office was able to procure to defend the statute, anti-gay activist George Rekers. That's despite the fact that three years prior to his being hired, a judge in Arkansas had panned Rekers' testimony in another gay adoption case. Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Fox called Rekers' testimony "extremely suspect," and said that Rekers "was there primarily to promote his own personal ideology."

Rekers is the co-founder of the Family Research Council and was the former scientific advisor of NARTH, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, an organization that offers conversion therapy to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. (He left that group earlier this year after Miami New Times famously caught him returning from a European vacation with a male "travel assistant" he'd reportedly hired from an escort site.)

Rekers' testimony in the four days of the November 2008 trial was neither "credible nor worthy of forming the basis for public policy," in the words of Judge Lederman.

The only other witness that McCollum's office produced for the trial, Kansas State University Professor Walter Schumm, actually argued against the ban at one point, testifying that a categorical ban on gays adopting children, as maintained in Florida, was not warranted by the facts, and that adoption decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.

But there was little blowback for McCollum or the state AG's office after Judge Lederman ruled the gay ban unconstitutional, as he announced immediately that the state would appeal.

Martin Gill was represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, who presented a series of experts who stated that separating Gill from his two sons (named "John" and "James" to maintain their anonymity) would be deleterious to those children.

One of those experts was Dr. David Brodzinski, a child clinical psychologist who visited John and James in May of 2008. Brodzinski said in court that it would be "devastating" for the boys if they were separated from Gill and his partner.

"For [James], it's the only home he's ever known," he testified. "Not only are these his parents in every sense of the word, he's very emotionally bonded, connected, attached to them." When asked whether the parents' being gay was of any relevance, Brodzinski replied that it played no role whatsoever.

"The real issue here, in any family, is the quality of parenting that is offered."

When the case went to the District Court of Appeals in August, seven groups provided amicus briefs supporting Gill, including the Child Welfare League of America, the American Psychology Association and the Florida Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the UF and FSU law schools. Many experts say lifting the ban on gay adoptions would be the right thing to do for the approximately 850 children (according to DCF) looking for families right now in Florida (with more than 25,000 in foster care). And one Florida professor wrote in a 2004 study that repealing the ban would also save the state money — over $3 million annually in foster care expenses.

In a cost/benefit analysis, University of Central Florida assistant professor Christopher Blackwell reported that, even though the administration of additional adoptions would cost DCF $1,834,000 over a 5-year period, assuming 100 children per year would be adopted by gays, the change would overall benefit DCF and the state of Florida by $4,959,500.

Martin Gill, 47, has become the somewhat reluctant face of the movement to change Florida's law against gay adoptions. The legal odyssey that could end up going to the Florida Supreme Court began in December of 2004, when Gill and his partner of five years became foster parents to the two brothers. John was 4 years old, James 4 months old at the time; both had been severely neglected. In July of 2006, state courts terminated Gill and his partner's status as parents because they were gay. Gill sued, the ACLU learned of his suit and agreed to defend him, and the rest has been well, a whole lot of litigation. (The boys are now 10 and 5 years old, respectively. Gill's partner, a Largo native, has never publicly given his name.)

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