Landmark ACLU Case Challenging Florida's Gay Adoption Ban Reaches Federal Appeals Court

February 14, 2002 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


ATLANTA – For the first time ever, a federal appeals court is weighing the constitutionality of banning gay adoption, in the American Civil Liberties Union’s case against Florida’s law prohibiting all gay people from adopting children.

“”In the state of Florida today, there are 3,400 children in foster care who could be adopted right away if qualified parents came forward,”” said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project. “”They wait while Florida uses the child welfare system to make a political statement about lesbians and gay men.””

In a 43-page brief filed today at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, the ACLU asked the appeals court to reverse the decision of a lower federal judge who dismissed the case before it could reach a trial. The state has 30 days to file a response, and oral arguments in the case will be scheduled for later this year. The ACLU initially filed its federal lawsuit in 1998 challenging the Florida law – marking the first time a federal court was asked the fundamental question of whether a state can broadly block gay people from being parents.

The ACLU represents three families in the case. 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. Doug Houghton has raised a 10-year-old boy for six years but also cannot adopt him 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. Wayne Smith and Dan Skahen provide foster care to various children as needed, but cannot adopt any children because of Florida’s law.

The 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: “”[w]e are really tired of you. We wish you’d go back in the closet.””

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.

The ACLU told the appeals court today that it’s unconstitutional for the state to have a law with no basis other than expressing disapproval toward gay people. “”There’s no question that’s what Florida is doing — and it’s exactly what the Constitution meant to prevent,”” Coles said.

Today’s court filing includes information detailing the potential jeopardy Florida’s law poses for some existing families. On June 21, 2001, according to the legal papers filed today, the state told Lofton it was looking for another family to adopt his nearly-11-year-old boy. When the ACLU asked for assurances that the boy wouldn’t be removed from his family until the case is over, “”the state refused, saying only that [the boy] would not be taken away until the state found someone else to adopt him,”” the ACLU brief says.

In an affidavit excerpted in today’s brief, Lofton makes clear his relationship with the boy: “”I have been his parent in every way. For example, every day I wake him up in the morning and help him get dressed and ready to go to school; I help him with his homework when he comes home from school; we have a family dinner every night, cooked by Roger … I make sure he is safe. He calls me ‘Dad.’ … I love [him] deeply and want to protect him. But I cannot protect him unless I can adopt him.””

Click here to read the full text of today’s brief (in PDF format).

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release