ACLU Argues Case Challenging Florida's Gay Adoption Ban

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
March 4, 2003 12:00 am

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MIAMI – Arguing today in a landmark case before a federal appeals court, the American Civil Liberties Union urged the justices to strike down as unconstitutional a Florida law that prohibits all gay people from adopting children.

“There are 3,400 children in Florida foster care in need of permanent homes,” said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, who appeared before the court. “The state keeps these kids in limbo, burdening a child welfare system already in crisis, just so it can make a political statement against lesbians and gay men.”

The ACLU argued that the Florida law violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection guarantees. “Fortunately our Constitution says you can’t enact laws to discriminate against a group of people,” said Coles. “This law has nothing to do with child welfare, and every responsible person in the state knows it. It is shameful what the state has done to its children in the name of tired myths and stereotypes.”

The issue came before the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals after a lower court judge dismissed the case without allowing it to go to trial. The ACLU, in conjunction with the ACLU of Florida, initially filed the lawsuit in 1998.

“We are asking the federal courts to protect both the children of Florida who need loving, stable homes and their qualified parents from the irrational prejudices of our state legislators – prejudices that were placed in the law a generation ago,” said Howard L. Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida.

Even though the state prevents lesbian and gay men from adopting, it frequently relies on gay people to be foster parents to children in need of stable homes. Two of the three families represented by the ACLU 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 — ages 15, 11 and 15 — 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 but over the years have willingly taken in other children as needed. A family court judge recently issued a novel court order granting Smith and Skahen “permanent legal custody” to one of their two children in a effort to provide the child with greater family security.

Doug Houghton has been the legal guardian of an 11-year-old boy for seven years. Even though the child’s biological father would prefer for Houghton to be the legal parent, Houghton can’t adopt because of Florida’s law. The same court that dismissed the lawsuit last year said that Houghton and the boy are just as close as biological parents and their children.

The law that prevents gay people from adopting was passed by the state legislature in 1977, in the midst of Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade. The bill’s sponsor in the State Senate told a local newspaper at the time that the law was intended to send this message to lesbians and gay men: “[w]e are really tired of you. We wish you’d go back in the closet.”

Last year, nine former members of the Florida House and Senate who voted for the law publicly admitted in a signed statement that they were wrong for passing the law. Even the state’s leading official overseeing adoption policy is opposed to the ban. In sworn depositions for the case, Carol Hutchison of the Department of Family and Children answered “No” when asked, “Do you know of any child welfare reason at all for excluding gay people from adopting children?” She was then asked if she believes children’s best interests would be served if lesbians and gay men were allowed to adopt. “I think it’s contraindicated to rule out such a large population of people who quite possibly could meet the needs [of] awaiting children,” she said.

Every mainstream child advocacy and mental health organization, including the Child Welfare League of America, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association and National Association of Social Workers, is opposed to excluding gay people from adoption. The Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Rights, Inc, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, National Center for Youth Law and the North American Council on Adoptable Children submitted a friend of the court brief asking the court to strike down the ban.

For additional information, including links to the ACLU’s legal papers, go to

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