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Decision Tomorrow in Challenge to Florida’s Ban on Adoption by Gay People

Matt Coles,
Former Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Equality
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November 24, 2008

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

Tomorrow we’ll learn the outcome in the ACLU’s latest challenge to Florida’s law banning adoption by lesbians and gay men. The judge has told us that she’ll announce her decision in open court.

We’re cautiously optimistic about the outcome because this time (this is the sixth challenge to the law, the fourth from the ACLU), we were finally able to get the court to look at the scientific facts about gay people as parents.

The state made just about every argument it could — no matter how repulsive or discredited — to justify a blanket ban on adoption by gay people and no one else. Gay people, Florida says, are more prone to alcohol and drug abuse, are more likely to be depressed and suicidal, and are more likely to have unstable relationships. We, the state insists, are more likely to engage in domestic violence, and our children are more likely to be gay and to be psychologically damaged by abuse from people who are homophobic.

To make the case that Florida’s ban was based not on science but on ignorance (at best), we assembled what is probably the finest collection of child welfare, psychology, sociology and medical experts on these issues ever presented to a court. They included (among others): Dr. Michael Lamb, a world-renowned expert on children’s development, who is formerly the Chief of the Section on Social and Emotional Development at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and now chair of the Department of Psychology at Cambridge University; Dr. Anne Peplau, a Professor of Psychology at UCLA and a leading authority on couple relationships; Susan Cochran, a psychologist and epidemiologist at UCLA's Department of Public Health, and a leading authority on the demographics of health and psychology; and Dr. Frederick Berlin from Johns Hopkins, probably America’s foremost authority on child sexual abuse.

We used this remarkable cast to establish not just that the state was wrong about gay people as parents, but that no thinking person who understood the science does — or could — disagree. In that, our experts were materially aided by the experts for the state.

Here’s what our team established: The science does show that while gay people as a group have higher rates of depression and substance abuse, other demographic characteristics (including ethnicity and income) correlate with similar or even higher rates. However, these groups are not excluded from adopting. Those problems occur in every population group. That is why adoption systems are designed to screen individuals and not to rely on group generalizations.

As to the persistent myth that gay people are more likely to be pedophiles, cited by some of the state’s witnesses, there is no scientific support for it whatsoever. Nor is there any basis for the claim that gay couples are more prone to domestic violence. The science shows that children of gay parents are not more prone to be gay. Perhaps more important, since there is nothing wrong with being gay, the state couldn’t use its power to try to make sure there are fewer of us even if that were possible.

Finally, and most important, not a single scientifically supportable study has shown that the children of gay parents are disadvantaged in any way because of their parents’ sexual orientation. The consensus in all the relevant scientific fields, and among all of the major child welfare organizations — the Child Welfare League, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the AMA and the National Association of Social Workers — is that sexual orientation has nothing to do with ability to parent, and that banning adoption by gay people hurts children by keeping good parents out of the system.

The trial, we think, established not just that sexual orientation has nothing to do with ability to parent. We think it established that there aren’t two respectable scientific views on gay people as parents. There is, instead, a scientific consensus, and against it, an ideology based on beliefs without support in the real world.

We also hope the trial established the cruelty and foolishness of taking prospective parents out of a child welfare system collapsing under the weight of far too many abandoned and neglected children, and far too few adoptive parents. This we did less with the experts than with the story of our client, Martin Gill.

Four years ago, Gill took in two half-brothers — one four years old at the time, and the other still a baby — when a child abuse investigator asked him for help. The placement was supposed to be temporary, but a plan to place the kids with their grandmother fell through. At the time, both boys had significant health problems and the older was withdrawn, uncommunicative, and behind in development.

Today the kids are happy, healthy, and are wonderfully rambunctious and ordinary. And that, of course, is the point. Kids deserve the chance to a childhood, and there could be nothing meaner than denying a kid — who has already seen more pain than anyone should — a shot at one.

Check back tomorrow to see if the court agrees with us.

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