Child Welfare, Civil Rights Advocates Call on State Officials To Keep Family at Center of Gay Adoption Battle Together

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
March 14, 2002 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MIAMI – With the state threatening to take a 10-year-old boy from the only family he’s ever known, child welfare and civil rights advocates today called on the governor and the state’s top children’s policy official to stop the harm caused by Florida’s gay adoption ban.

The groups also called on Gov. Jeb Bush and Dept. of Children and Families Secretary Kathleen Kearney to begin processing adoption applications from gay people immediately and put their support behind efforts to get rid of the gay adoption ban to instead allow prospective parents to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s time for leadership to end the harm inflicted by this mean-spirited law,” said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida. “Today we’re asking Gov. Bush and Secretary Kearney to put children’s needs ahead of anti-gay bigotry and order state employees to leave Bert in his home.”

ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said, “Gov. Bush and Secretary Kearney have the legal authority to keep this family together — and they should use it.”

“They can — and should — direct caseworkers to start processing applications regardless of sexual orientation while this law is under review, and firmly support efforts to get rid of the ban,” Simon said.

Question II-G on Florida’s adoption application asks whether prospective parents are gay, and cites the state law barring gay people from adopting. Applicants who do not answer are rejected, and most gay people don’t finish filling out the form because the question makes it clear they won’t be considered. The groups said Florida’s 24-year-old adoption ban needlessly eliminates qualified adoptive parents – while 3,400 children in foster care statewide wait for permanent homes.

The ACLU’s landmark federal lawsuit challenging the Florida ban is before a federal appeals court, where it will be heard later this year. The family of Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau, raising five kids – including three Florida foster kids (now ages 14, 14 and 10) who came into their family when they were infants – are among the plaintiffs in the case. Last June, Florida caseworkers began actively looking for another family to adopt Bert because Florida’s ban prevents Lofton and Croteau from adopting him.

At a press conference this morning in Miami, ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project Director Matt Coles said the state had just filed a motion attempting to strike evidence about Bert’s closeness with his family from the appeal, claiming it would “confuse and distort” the issues. “The state is desperate to keep people from seeing what this law actually does to real people,” Coles said.

According to the Center Director of one of Dade County’s largest Head Start programs, the law could have a “devastating” impact on the Lofton-Croteau family and others. Julie Rivron, of KidCo, met Lofton and Croteau more than a decade ago, when they began bringing Frank, now 14, Tracy, also 14 now, and Bert to the day care.

“They’re brothers. They’re sisters. They’re a family unit,” Rivron said today. “We can’t imagine seeing them torn apart.”

Tens of thousands of Americans agree, Simon said. In the three days since the ACLU launched www.LetHimStay.com, a site about the Lofton-Croteau family, the lawsuit and gay parenting generally, more than 80,000 letters have been sent through the site to Bush and Kearney.

Also today the ACLU released Too High A Price: The Case Against Restricting Gay Parenting, a 118-page paperback book with an introduction by Rosie O’Donnell. The book will be distributed to policy-makers, child welfare advocates and placement specialists nationwide, the ACLU said. The first chapter of the book focuses on Florida, calling its gay adoption ban “both a case study and a cautionary tale – a story for anyone who isn’t sure whether restricting gay parenting might be a good idea.”

Last month, the nation’s leading children’s groups, including the Child Welfare League of America, told the federal appeals court that Florida’s gay adoption ban “hurts” kids statewide who are waiting for loving, supportive adoptive homes. Last week, nearly a dozen former state legislators who voted for the adoption ban in 1977 signed written statements, saying “We were wrong,” and supporting efforts to overturn or repeal the law.

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The ACLU’s federal lawsuit challenging the Florida gay adoption ban was initially filed in 1999. Other plaintiffs in the case include Wayne Smith and Dan Skahen, a Key West couple who have been foster parents to about 10 kids but cannot adopt them or any others. Doug Houghton of Miami is also a plaintiff in the case. He cannot adopt the boy he has raised for six years because of Florida’s ban.

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