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Something to Be Thankful For

Matt Coles,
Former Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Equality
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November 26, 2008

We won the Florida adoption case yesterday. A Miami judge ruled that the ban on adoption by gay people was unconstitutional. And I got two new heroes out of the case.

The first hero is Cindy Lederman. She’s the judge who finally had the guts to hear the evidence on gay people as parents. I wrote earlier this week about the evidence we gave her, and how it showed that sexual orientation has no connection to parenting ability. Judge Lederman also had the insight to understand what that expert evidence meant, and its legal significance. Here’s how she put it:

As a result, based on the robust nature of the evidence available in the field, this Court is satisfied that the issue is so far beyond dispute that it would be irrational to hold otherwise; the best interests of children are not preserved by prohibiting homosexual adoption.

And then she did what followed inevitably from that finding: She declared the law unconstitutional and allowed our client to adopt his sons. (You can read her opinion here.)

And that’s my other hero: our client, Martin Gill. On December 11, 2004, a child protection investigator asked Gill if he’d take in two half-brothers temporarily. They needed, the investigator told him, they deserved a decent Christmas. Although he and his partner were planning on moving out of state, Martin is something of a softie. A decent Christmas didn’t seem too much to ask. He said yes.

So that night, two small boys, one 4 years old and one 4 months old, came to Martin Gill’s home. The 4-year-old had on a dirty adult T-shirt and sneakers so small he wore them like flip-flops. Both boys were sick. The older boy’s medicine was unopened and expired, the baby’s barely touched.

The 4-year-old did not speak, and seemed mostly unresponsive. The only thing he cared about was changing, feeding, and taking care of his baby brother. Gill and his partner quickly realized that this 4-year-old was the baby’s primary caretaker.

After about a month, the older boy finally began to talk. It quickly became clear that he had never seen a book, couldn’t distinguish letters from numbers, couldn’t identify colors, couldn’t count, couldn’t hold a pencil. At dinner time, he’d ask for more food at the start of the meal, hide it, and then sneak it into his bedroom because he was afraid it would run out. Gill and his partner slowly got him to stop doing that by keeping plenty of food in the house and showing him at the start of meals that there was lots of food.

The boys have now been with Martin Gill and his partner for four years. The experts and the judge have a lot to say about just how good that is. The kids have structured lives; they’ve lived in one place all four years, they eat meals together and talk (no TV or phones answered during meals), they go to school. They have friends. They have a family — Gill and his partner’s brothers and sisters are their uncles and aunts. They have a grandmother. Gill even bought a Ford minivan.

The experts say Gill and his partner are model parents, but to me the whole thing sounds terribly ordinary. And that’s why Martin Gill is my hero. He gave these kids for whom society could do very little something priceless: an ordinary childhood. (We made a video of the kids — that protects their identities — so you can see what I mean here.)

I see people like Martin Gill and I want to say: Forget the science. Until all the kids who are without families are taken care of, our opponents should shut up and join us in thanking the heavens that there are people like Martin Gill around.

So let’s do that tomorrow, let’s thank the heavens for Martin Gill and Judge Cindy Lederman, and for Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau, for Doug Houghton, and for Dan Skahen and Wayne Smith, and for all the other lesbians and gay men who’ve fought to give kids no one else wanted a home. And let’s thank Project lawyer Leslie Cooper, who has made a career out of fighting this Florida law, and James Esseks, Rob Rosenwald, Shelbi Day, and all the other lawyers and social workers and psychologists who’ve fought to take it down.

The state will appeal. But I think it is going to be very hard to turn this one around. I’ll keep you posted.

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