ACLU Challenges Florida Ban On Lesbian and Gay Adoption

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
May 26, 1999 12:00 am

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KEY WEST, FL -- Vowing to overturn the only law in the nation that bans gays and lesbians from adopting children, the American Civil Liberties Union and Children First Project today filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Florida.

The groups, together with some of the potential adoptive parents and foster children, announced the lawsuit at a news conference today at the ACLU offices in Miami.

Florida's 1977 law -- passed in the wake of Anita Bryant's virulently homophobic "Save Our Children" campaign against gay rights -- bans any gay man or lesbian from adopting. The ACLU's seven clients include a gay man who with his partner has raised three foster children since infancy, other individuals who wish to become parents, and a heterosexual couple who have asked a gay relative in Florida to adopt their children in the event of their deaths.

Last month, New Hampshire lawmakers repealed that state's 12-year-old ban on gay adoption and foster parenting, leaving Florida the only state where children are denied adoptive parents on the basis of the sexual orientation of their potential adoptive parents.

is discriminatory law.

The two children named individually in the class action, "John Doe" and "John Roe," are being raised by gay parents who wish to adopt them.

"It would be devastating for these children to be removed from the only home they know," said Christina A. Zawisza, an attorney with Children First Project. "Adoption affords them unassailable legal protection."

The adults represented in the ACLU lawsuit are:

  • Steven Lofton, 41, of Oregon. Lofton and his partner of 15 years, Roger Croteau, 43, are both registered nurses with a combined 20 years of experience in pediatrics. Lofton is the foster parent of three children, ages 8-11, whom he and his partner have raised since birth. The two recently moved their family from Florida to Oregon. All of the children are wards of the state of Florida; one of them, "John Doe" is now available for adoption.
  • Wayne Smith, 43, and Daniel Skahen, 32, of Key West. Smith, an attorney, and Skahen, a real estate broker, have lived together in a committed relationship for more than six years. Both are highly active in their community and help to care for an 89-year-old woman who lives with them. They would very much like to adopt children but are automatically disqualified from doing so because they are gay.
  • Brenda Lynn Bradley, 36, and Gregory Dale Bradley, 39, of Reno, Nevada. Brenda -- sister of ACLU client Wayne Smith -- and her husband Gregory have been married for seven years and have a two-year-old daughter. It is the Bradleys' wish for Smith to adopt their daughter in the event of their deaths. However, because Smith is gay, their wishes cannot be honored under the Florida law, even though he is the girl's biological uncle.
  • Angela Gilmore, 36, of Broward County. Gilmore, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University who was named "Professor of the Year" in 1995, shares a committed relationship with her female partner and hopes one day to adopt a child.
  • Douglas Houghton, 36, of Miami. For the past four years, Houghton, a clinical nurse specialist in a hospital trauma unit, has been the legal guardian of -- and wants to adopt -- seven-year-old "John Roe."

Two of the three foster children being raised by Lofton and his partner Roger Croteau are HIV positive; the third, HIV-positive at birth, no longer tests positive. Lofton cares for the children full-time at home and administers all of their medications.

While the three children are not biologically related, said Lofton, they have all formed deep attachments with each other as well as to the men they call "Dad."

"Our children have the same right to a loving family as anyone else, without fear that the state of Florida will take it all away," said Lofton.

In a recent news article, The Miami Herald dubbed the Lofton-Croteau home "The House That Love Built," while Florida's Children's Home Society -- the agency that placed the three children with Lofton -- created the "Lofton/Croteau Award" for outstanding foster parenting and in 1998 honored them as the first recipients.

"If successful, this lawsuit will remove an outdated, blanket prohibition on gay and lesbian adults becoming adoptive parents, a law that is based on little more than ignorance and prejudice," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida.

Currently, six states around the country (Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah) are considering or have recently considered bans on gay and lesbian foster care and/or adoption. Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a challenge to an Arkansas policy prohibiting qualified gays and lesbians -- and any heterosexuals who live with them -- from serving as foster parents.

At the same time, many states have moved to safeguard the interests of children with gay or lesbian parents. For example, at least 21 states have granted co-parent adoptions to lesbian and gay couples, ensuring that their children can enjoy the benefits of having two legal parents, especially if one of the parents dies or becomes incapacitated.

The case is Lofton v. Butterworth. Attorneys representing the adult clients are Adams and Leslie Cooper of the ACLU's National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, Andrew H. Kayton of the ACLU of Florida, and ACLU cooperating attorneys Karen Coolman Amlong of Ft. Lauderdale and Steven Kozlowski and Elizabeth Schwartz of Miami. Attorneys for the children in the case are John M. Ratliff and Christina A. Zawisza of Children First Project at the Shepard Broad Law Center at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale.

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