FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Vows to Ensure Families Involved in the Lawsuit Stay Together
NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union today said that it was disappointed by the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear an appeal in its lawsuit challenging a Florida law that bans gay people from adopting.
"It is disappointing that the Court will not review the earlier ruling upholding the ban. There are more than 8,000 children in Florida foster care, some of whom surely would have found permanent homes if the law had been struck down," said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "No judge in this case ever looked at the social science on the ability of gay people to parent. Since this case was decided, however, a court in Little Rock heard from the top experts in America and concluded that sexual orientation has nothing to do with whether someone is a good parent."
"The Florida ban flies in the face of the positions of every major child welfare organization, many of which have come out publicly against this law," added Chris Zawisza, an attorney on behalf of Florida's Children First, which is representing the children involved in the case. "This law is bad public policy that does real harm to children."
The ACLU asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal in the case after the Federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit narrowly upheld the ban. By a vote of six-to-six, the full court declined to reconsider an earlier decision by a three-member panel of the appeals court upholding the law. The law was enacted by the state legislature in 1977, in the midst of Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade. The ACLU filed a challenge to the law in 1999.
"As far as the kids directly involved in this lawsuit are concerned, this case is far from over," said Leslie Cooper, a staff attorney for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project who worked on the case. "We'll fight tooth and nail through local juvenile courts to ensure these families are not torn apart."
Any move by the state to change the placement of any of the children involved in the case would have to be approved by a family court or other judge, in which case the ACLU would fight vigorously to keep the families intact.
Although the state bars gay people from adopting, it has no restriction on gay people serving as foster parents. In fact, two of the three families involved 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 children - two 17-year-olds and a 13-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 are now foster parents to two children. A family court judge issued a novel court order in 2002 granting Smith and Skahen "permanent legal custody" to one of their two children in an effort to provide the child with greater family security. Doug Houghton has been the legal guardian for nine years of a boy who is now nearly 13 years old. Even though the child's biological father would prefer for Houghton to be the legal parent, Houghton can't adopt because of the law.
"By denying our request to hear this case," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida, "the Supreme Court, sadly, has allowed the lives of thousands of children adrift in Florida's scandal-ridden foster care system to be governed by the ugly prejudices of legislators - not even our current legislators, but the prejudices of Florida lawmakers a generation ago."
The ACLU is committed to abolishing this law and is considering other legal options to challenge it.
Additional information about the lawsuit is available at www.lethimstay.com. The ACLU has also published a new edition of Too High a Price: The Case Against Restricting Gay Parenting, which includes detailed information about the social science research on gay parenting and explains why restricting gay parenting is bad public policy. For a free copy of the book, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. A downloadable version of the book is available online.