Florida Trying To Muzzle Children's Advocates Who Contend Gay Adoption Ban 'Hurts' Kids, ACLU Says

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
April 18, 2002 12:00 am

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More on the ACLU’s Fight Against Florida’s Gay Adoption Ban Is at the Special Web Site, www.LetHimStay.com

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ATLANTA – The state of Florida is trying to silence some of the nation’s leading children’s advocates who want a federal appeals court to overturn the state’s embattled ban on gay adoption, the American Civil Liberties Union said as lawyers filed papers today opposing the state’s effort.

“There’s an air of desperation here – the state of Florida is incorrectly using legal technicalities to try to muzzle the experts on what’s best for kids,” said ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights attorney Leslie Cooper. “The state is still trying to say it bans gay adoption for the sake of kids, but these groups – our nation’s leading voices on behalf of children – know better. The court needs to hear from them.”

The ACLU’s landmark case challenging Florida’s across-the-board prohibition on all gay people adopting children will be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit later this year in Atlanta. Some of the nation’s largest, oldest and most respected children’s groups told that court the ban “not only has no child welfare basis whatsoever, but it also affirmatively hurts children awaiting adoption” in a brief filed in February. Today, lawyers for the children’s groups asked the court not to grant the state’s request (based on legal technicalities) to throw out that 37-page brief.

“Florida’s children should not be punished so that Florida … can express its moral disapproval of homosexuality,” the groups say in the brief that the state is trying to throw out. The lead group filing the brief is the Child Welfare League of America, an 80-year-old organization with 1,000 public and private member agencies serving more than 3 million children and their families yearly.

The children’s groups also note that by reducing the pool of qualified adoptive parents, the state of Florida is causing some children to be left with no parents at all. Case-by-case determinations – factoring in each child’s individual needs and whether each prospective parent can meet them – is the widely accepted standard for adoptive placement, the groups explain.

In the Florida case, the ACLU represents three families in a federal lawsuit challenging the gay adoption ban. Steven Lofton and his partner Roger Croteau are raising five children, including three Florida foster children. Although the kids — ages 14, 10 and 14 — have never known another family, they cannot be adopted by Lofton or Croteau because of Florida’s law. The state is now actively looking for another family to adopt the 10-year-old, Bert, who has been with the family since he was nine weeks old. His plight is featured on the special ACLU web site www.LetHimStay.com. In just five weeks, 285,000 letters have been sent through that web site to Florida’s top children’s official and the governor.

Florida’s ban on gay adoption 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 new law was intended to send this message to lesbians and gay men: “We are really tired of you. We wish you’d go back in the closet.” In recent months, a dozen of the legislators who voted for the ban in 1977 have signed written statements from the ACLU saying in part, “We were wrong,” and pledging to help overturn the law.

In sworn depositions for the case, the state’s leading official overseeing adoption policy was asked, “Do you know of any child welfare reason at all for excluding gay people from adopting children?” The official, Carol Hutchison, answered, “No.” She was then asked if she believes children’s best interests would be served if lesbians and gay men were allowed to adopt. “As I previously stated, 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.

Full background on the Florida lawsuit and gay parenting generally (including all legal documents in the case and positions of mainstream children’s advocates) are online at http://www.LetHimStay.com.

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