The Republicans who lead the Florida Legislature could help their party and the state with a gesture that would be compassionate and practical: Repeal the ban on same-sex adoptions.
During arguments Tuesday before the Supreme Court on a challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Justice Antonin Scalia said that if the justices allow gays and lesbians to marry, states inevitably “must permit same-sex adoptions.” Charles Cooper, the lawyer representing supporters of the California law, had warned about “adverse consequences” of same-sex marriage. Which prompted Justice Scalia to offer that there is “considerable disagreement among sociologists” about the effect on children of having same-sex parents.
If every big national news story leads back to Florida, Justice Scalia’s ignorant observation brought the same-sex marriage story back to Florida.
In 1977, responding to a hateful anti-homosexual-rights campaign in Dade County, the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Reubin Askew signed legislation prohibiting any gay or lesbian in Florida from adopting children. The Senate sponsor told homosexuals to “get back in the closet.”
The ban stood for 33 years. Dade County became Miami-Dade County. In 2010, however, the 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of a Miami-Dade judge who had ruled in 2008 that the ban violated the Florida Constitution because it unfairly deprived children of a home.
The case involved two brothers whom the Florida Department of Children and Families had brought in December 2004 to a man named Martin Gill, a licensed foster parent. The state said the boys “needed, and deserved, a good Christmas.” The boys were a mess. Case workers noted that the 4-year-old did not speak, but did act as the primary caregiver for his 4-month-old brother.
The state cut off the biological parents’ rights in 2006. Only Mr. Gill petitioned to adopt them. The boys wanted him to be their dad. He was qualified in every way that mattered. But there was that sexual orientation.
So Mr. Gill sued. On his side were the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatry Association, the American Pediatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Child Welfare League of America and the National Association of Social Workers. As Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Cindy Lederman wrote in her ruling that allowed Mr. Gill to adopt his foster sons, reports by those organizations “find that there are no differences in the parenting of homosexuals or the adjustment of their children.” The “considerable disagreement among sociologists” that Justice Scalia referenced actually is considerable agreement.
His comment typified the often bizarre exchanges last week about the supposed purpose of marriage. To Justice Scalia and others, couples marry to have children. Really? What about couples who don’t intend to have children or can’t have children? Are they not married? Less married? Does society relegate children of unmarried couples to a lower legal status?
These exchanges were off the point in two ways. The California case, and the Defense of Marriage challenge that came a day later, are about the rights of adults who love adults of the same gender. As for children, though, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked of the 40,000 children in California who have same-sex parents, “Aren’t they important?”
His question could apply to all the children in Florida who for more than three decades missed out on having a real father or mother. Those who supported the adoption ban or never tried to end it ignored the children. The state does first try to place foster children with two heterosexual parents. But not every foster child is in high demand.
The appellate court ruling, which the state did not challenge, effectively ended the ban. Still, another appeals court could rule differently, and the ban remains on the books, as Florida Statute 63.042(3). Ideally, the Legislature would place on the 2014 ballot a constitutional amendment to repeal the same-sex marriage ban voters passed in 2008. But repealing the gay adoption ban would take only a vote of the House and Senate and the signature of Gov. Rick Scott.
The GOP would score points with voters outside its comfort zone, and make a symbolic stand on behalf of children. But just last week Florida Family Action was urging rejection of a domestic partnership bill because it could “lead to same-sex marriage.”
Marriage in America faces plenty of issues. Barely half of all Americans are married. Four in 10 children are born outside marriage, the highest rate among African-Americans but the rate of increase is highest among whites and Hispanics. Society, though, can’t blame gays and lesbians for those problems. The irony is that those who most favor and most oppose same-sex marriage say they care deeply about family. Perhaps there can be considerable agreement that society benefits from strong families of all kinds.