Just about five years ago, Cathy James was still lobbying against the state’s gay adoption ban and fighting for recognition as her son’s second parent.
Now that a judge has ruled the law unconstitutional and James has officially adopted her now 14-year-old son, she wants to help other same-sex couples that are just starting on the road to adoption. She’ll be speaking tonight at 7 p.m. at PFLAG Tampa’s monthly meeting at Florida-Bahamas Synod, ELCA in Tampa, sharing her story and answering questions.
James, who works for Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, will be joined by attorney Maria Bates, founder of Project Patchwork, a nonprofit adoption agency that assists both same-sex and opposite-gender couples.
Several months ago, John and Nancy Desmond, founders of PFLAG Tampa, put a couple that attends its meetings in touch with James.
“I found out that one of the couples attending our meetings was in the same situation that Cathy was in years ago: one of the couple has a child but, without the benefit of marriage, the second parent has no rights with respect to the child,” John said. “I put them in touch with Cathy, but felt that more people should know about what they can do to preserve and increase their family rights.”
When James’ son was born in 2000, she realized she “had no legal rights or status in his life,” she said, despite very much being a parent from the beginning. “I was there from when we decided the sperm.”
So she got to work, forming a lobbying firm with Bates and another gay mom.
“I felt things weren’t moving forward fast enough in repealing the ban,” she said. They travelled from Tallahassee to Key West, meeting with politicians and organizations throughout the state. “We’d talk to anyone who’d listen.”
Though the ban was never repealed, same-sex parents in the Sunshine State won a victory in September 2010: the Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal found that the Florida Statute banning a gay or lesbian individual from adopting a child in Florida is unconstitutional.
Though Florida Statute 63.042(3), the law banning gay adoption, is still on the books, the appellate court’s ruling has allowed same-sex to adopt throughout the state. James expects the law “to just die on the vine.”
Hundreds, possibly more than 1,000 children have been adopted by gay couples since the 3rd DCA’s ruling, she said. And with gay rights moving forward throughout the country, it will be “tougher and tougher” for a judge to uphold the ban.
Now she wants to help other families get started, and help same-sex couples learn how they can ensure their rights as a family.
“You don’t have to lie on a form anymore,” she said. “You can be out and open and create forever families.”
According to the Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank based at UCLA, gay couples with children are four times more likely to be raising an adopted child and six times more likely to be raising foster children.
So tonight’s program is “really all about the children,” John said. And hopefully it will arm attendees with all the tools they need “to provide a legally and emotionally secure foundation for their families.”
He added, “This is important not only for existing LGBT families with children, but also for LGBT youth who are just now beginning to see themselves as future parents … This talk will help people understand how to become an adoptive parent or to stand as an equal parent in the family. It will help children see that their family is not a second-class relationship, but is the equal of all their peers.”
PFLAG Tampa meets the first Wednesday of each month, 7 to 9 p.m., at the Florida-Bahamas Synod of ELCA, 3838 W. Cypress St. Find more information about the group here.