This is a big win. Yes, it’s only a trial court judge. Yes, it will be appealed. But this is the case that I suspect will finally end Florida’s ban on adoption by gay men and lesbians, once and for all. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman has declared the ban unconstitutional. Here's the full ruling.
Earlier this fall a judge in Key West ruled the ban unconstitutional and granted an adoption, but the state did not appeal that ruling. The child in that case was not being adopted out of the state’s foster care system, and so the state bowed out. In this case, Frank Gill has been the foster parent of two brothers, 4 and 8 years old, for the last four years. The state expected the placement to be brief, thinking the children would be returned to their parents or taken in by their grandmother. Neither of those things happened, and the children thrived with Gill and his partner. State child welfare workers would have supported Gill’s adoption petition had it not been prohibited by state law.
If you think you’ve heard about court challenges to Florida’s adoption ban before, it’s because you have. The most famous case, Lofton, went to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, where the ban was upheld by a sharply divided court.
So why would this case come out differently? Well, the ACLU, which litigated both cases, decided in Lofton to argue that the state should have to come forward with evidence to support the gay adoption ban. So the ACLU in that case didn’t offer its own experts to testify about the wisdom – or lack thereof – of denying children the opportunity to be raised by loving parents who happened to be gay. In this case, they made a different choice. They offered experts with unassailable credentials, and the trial court judge accepted their testimony and used it as the basis for her ruling. Every mainstream child welfare organization opposes restrictions on adoption by lesbians and gay men.
The state of Florida offered experts too. But their experts were thoroughly discredited. George Rekers testified that gay people should be disallowed from adopting because of their higher rates of depression and suicide. When confronted with evidence of other groups with higher rates of depression and suicide, such a lower income people and Native Americans, he testified that more groups should be banned from adopting children! Rekers also admitted that he had written that women who work outside the home have functionally deserted their children and that he had condemned social science that does not adhere to “the moral laws of God.” The other supposed expert testified that social science could be used to spread God’s word. It’s a testament to the utter travesty that is this ban that Florida could do no better than this in defending a policy that is truly without any rational defense.
ACLU lawyers Matt Coles and Leslie Cooper deserve our highest praise for their years of work on behalf of lesbian and gay adoptive and foster parents. A 2005 case ended Arkansas's ban on gay and lesbian foster parenting. This year an initiative in Arkansas instituted a ban on adoption and foster parenting by anyone living with an unmarried partner. Expect the ACLU to challenge this as well.