Child Welfare League of America Backs ACLU in Challenging Florida Gay Adoption Ban

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
December 9, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – One of the nation’s oldest and most respected child welfare organizations has weighed in on the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal in a case challenging a Florida law that bars gay people from adopting. In a friend of the court brief filed late yesterday, the Child Welfare League of America argues that banning lesbian and gay families from adoption has no scientific basis and only serves to hurt children who need loving homes by needlessly reducing the pool of potential adoptive parents.

“Every year, hundreds of children in Florida reach the age of 18 without ever being placed in a permanent home. Before that, these kids live in an already-overburdened foster care system, without ever knowing what it means to have parents and a stable home,” said Shay Bilchik, President and CEO of the CWLA. “Misconceptions and stereotypes about gay people are especially harmful when they are used to deny children the chance to grow up in a loving, secure family”

The CWLA brief points out that well-established, time-tested policy in the adoption field calls for a case-by-case approach in deciding which families and which children are right for each other. Categorically ruling out an entire group of people for unscientific, discriminatory reasons, the CWLA asserts, only means that more children are kept waiting even longer for good homes and that more children are denied the most suitable placements. For example, a beloved aunt who is a lesbian could be passed over in favor of complete strangers for a child whose parents have died. The CWLA brief also explains that many mainstream organizations, including the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatricians, agree that scientific research has shown children are not disadvantaged by being raised by gay parents.

Even though the state categorically excludes 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 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 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 issued a novel court order granting Smith and Skahen “permanent legal custody” of one of their two children in an effort to provide the child with greater family security.

The third family in the case is that of Doug Houghton, who has been the legal guardian of a 13-year-old boy for nine years. Even though the child’s biological father would prefer for Houghton to be the legal parent, Houghton can’t adopt him because of Florida’s law. The Miami federal court that originally dismissed the lawsuit said that Houghton and the boy are just as close as biological parents and their children.

A panel of the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the law last January, and the full court refused to rehear the case’s appeal. On October 1, the ACLU petitioned the Supreme Court to take the case because lower courts have refused to follow the Court’s earlier admonishments in two earlier cases, Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas, that states are prohibited from passing laws designed to disadvantage gay people. The Florida legislature adopted the challenged law during Anita Bryant’s infamous anti-gay crusade in 1977. 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.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear an appeal in the case by early January.

The Child Welfare League of America brief was submitted by Stuart Delery, Elizabeth Mitchell, Steven P. Lehotsky, and Carrie Wofford of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, as well as Barbara Bennett Woodhouse of the Center on Children and the Law at the University of Florida.

The case is Lofton v. Kearney.

For additional information, including a copy of the CWLA brief, visit

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