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An Adoption, 33 Years in the Making

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January 19, 2011

Earlier today, Martin Gill, his partner and the two young boys they’ve been foster parenting for the last six years participated in an adoption ceremony in Judge Cindy Lederman’s chambers in Miami-Dade County Juvenile Court.

Adoptions happen every day. But what made this particular adoption, with these particular people, in this particular place different from the scores of other adoptions that will be finalized today in courtrooms across the country is that this adoption was 33 years in the making.

On its surface, the circumstances of this family coming together seemed pretty straightforward: Two boys suffering from neglect — both had ringworm and the younger brother had an untreated ear infection — were placed in the caring home of Martin and his partner just before Christmas six years ago. In the Gill home, the boys thrived, recovering not only from the physical ailments they’d had when they arrived, but overcoming the emotional and developmental setbacks they’d suffered as well.

When it became clear that it was not possible to reunite the boys with their birth family, Martin and his partner attempted to adopt the two boys, to make permanent the home and bonds they had forged and provide a stable, loving environment in which the boys could continue to grow. It was hard to imagine any reason why this adoption would not be granted.

Their adoption application was rejected, because for more than three decades, this adoption — or any adoption by gay men or lesbians — was prohibited by Florida law.

In 1977, encouraged by Anita Bryant and her organization “Save Our Children,” Florida lawmakers passed a discriminatory law barring gay men and lesbians from adopting children. The rhetoric used to support the ban was hateful and as untrue then as we know it is today:. That we were trying to convert children to homosexuality; that gay couples who wanted to adopt were “recruiting,” that children raised by gay men and lesbians would somehow turn out damaged. These outright lies that nevertheless convinced the state of Florida to pass an adoption ban.

Martin’s case is not the first time the ACLU has challenged the law. In the early 1990’s, we brought three challenges to the ban in Florida state court, but none succeeded. In 1999, we turned to federal court when we represented Steven Lofton, a pediatric nurse who had raised three children born HIV-positive from infancy, and three other men in a challenge to the law, and suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the court of appeals.

It was Martin’s case, started shortly after the Lofton defeat,that would prove to be the challenge that finally took down the law. Judge Lederman, who presided over the adoption ceremony today, first ruled that the law was unconstitutional. That, in fact, the ban “causes harm to the children it is meant to protect.” The state appealed that ruling to Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeals, which agreed with Judge Lederman. At that point, the state declined to pursue further appeals, allowing today’s ceremony to finally happen.

Last October, my partner and I began the process of being approved to adopt. When we do, while that day will surely be momentous for us and our family, the world at large will hardly notice. Because we live in a state where adoption by gay men and lesbians is commonplace, our adoption will be wholly unremarkable to our community at large. And that’s the way it should be.

Thanks to Martin Gill and today’s very special adoption ceremony, the day will soon come when adoptions by gay men and lesbians in Florida will be just as commonplace, when there will be no need for blog posts or newspaper articles or mentions on the evening news. It will just be another happy day for another happy new family in the Sunshine State. Remarkable.

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