In a Six-to-Six Vote, Federal Appeals Court Declines to Reconsider Decision Upholding Florida's Anti-Gay Adoption Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
July 22, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW YORK- The American Civil Liberties Union today said that it is disappointed that the full United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has declined to reconsider an earlier decision from a three-judge panel, which upheld a Florida law that bans gay people from adopting.

“”Coming this close to having the whole court consider the issue is little consolation to the thousands of children in Florida foster care who are in need of permanent homes,”” said Leslie Cooper, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “”The decision is especially disappointing when you consider the fact that even the judge who wrote the initial decision goes on record as saying the policy behind the ban is misguided.””

The 12-member court’s sharply divided decision was in response to a motion by the ACLU asking the full court to reconsider the three-judge decision from January 29, 2004, which upheld Florida’s anti-gay adoption law. Three of the judges agreed with the ACLU that the ban is unconstitutional, while three additional judges agreed that the Court should reconsider the decision.

“”The state has attempted to justify the law by saying that it serves the purpose of getting children placed in families with married couples,”” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “”But as Judge Barkett stated in her dissenting opinion, the law has nothing to do with that.””

Judge Barkett noted that Florida regularly allows single people to adopt, and pointed out that 30 percent of the adoptions in the state are by single parents. She further noted that given the “”backlog”” of 3,400 children in the system waiting to be adopted, “”the state’s ban on gay adoption does nothing to increase the number of children being adopted, whether by married couples or anyone else.””

Simon continued, “”The law was enacted merely out of impermissible hostility to gays and lesbians and that kind of law violates the Constitution.””

Even Judge Birch, who wrote the original decision upholding the ban, said that excluding gay people from the pool of potential adoptive parents is misguided and bad policy, recognizing the fact that gay people like plaintiffs Doug Houghton and Steven Lofton can be devoted parents. He even stated that if he were a member of the legislature he would be opposed to the law.

The ACLU brought a lawsuit on behalf of four gay men who would like to adopt in Florida but are prevented from doing so by a state law that ban lesbians and gay men from adopting. The law was passed in 1977 in response to Anita Bryant’s infamous anti-gay campaign. The children involved in the case are represented by Chris Zawisza and Children First Project.

The ACLU is reviewing the opinions and exploring the legal options.

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