This past Saturday, November 21st, was National Adoption Day. A day meant to raise awareness of the children in foster care waiting to find permanent families. This is a great cause worthy of broad support but here in Florida the holiday came and went without addressing the elephant in the room—Florida is the only state to specifically ban members of the LGBT community from adopting a child; although it hypocritically will allow a someone who is gay to foster a child until they are 18. The law specifically states “No person eligible to adopt under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual.” This incongruity is a farce. It violates the rights of Florida’s 20,000+ children who are languishing in foster care, especially the 3,500 who are up for permanent adoption at any one time because it violates their right to permanency. It hurts LGBT individuals and couples who are denied the ability to both provide a public service and to grow their own family. It hurts Florida financially and it hurts the very future of these children.
Currently attention is focused on the case of Martin Gill who is attempting to adopt two foster children who have been in his care since 2004. Gill and his partner had successfully fostered many other children for years so it was not surprising, when the state came to them in 2004 asking them to help out two brothers, John and James, who had just been taken from their parents that night. These children were in need of the special care and attention that the Gills had become well known for providing.
John, age 4, arrived at the Gills with filthy clothes, a severe case of ringworm and was so silent as to be almost comatose. The only time he responded to his environment was when his 4-month old brother, James needed assistance. This 4 year old boy would change his baby brother’s diaper with the practiced skill of someone who had done so all too often.
John used grunts to communicated and hoarded food as if he feared he might never eat again.
These boys had lived in a world of chronic neglect and emotional impoverishment but when they arrived at the Gill home the found the love and care they so desperately needed.
Fast forward to the summer of 2008—Frank Gill attempts to adopt these two boys whose lives one could quite easily say he and his partner, Tom Roe, had saved. To that effect they challenged the states anti-gay adoption law by arguing that the ban violated the Florida Constitution by denying the rights of the children.
Judge Lederman, a circuit-court judge, agreed and ruled the ban unconstitutional thus giving Gill the permission to adopt the boys. Lederman stated, “The constitutional finding is that [the children] have a right to permanence. And permanency is not is not achieved by taking them out of the Gill home where they are thriving” and highlighted that the Gills are “are a family, a good family, in every way, except in the eyes of the law.”
This of course led to an appeal from Florida’s Attorney General’s office who challenged the ruling in an appeal case heard earlier this summer. Currently the Gills are awaiting the verdict but regardless of whether they win or lose the case, it will likely head to Florida’s Supreme Court and should they prove victorious there, one would then expect the anti-gay forces will push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay adoption which would negate the ruling of the courts.
It is obvious to all not caught up anti-gay fervor that the best interest of children are not preserved by prohibiting a gay man such as Martin Gill from adopting. In this particular case, the boys are thriving both socially and academically and everyone who knows the boys, including a state-appointed guardian and a child therapist, say this house is where they belong.
That the state of Florida would appeal this case violates every rule of decency and fairness by threatening to tear these children away from a home that has loved and cared for them simply because their “papi” is gay. James, now four-years-old, has never known another home so perhaps he might recover but John, who remembers their previous abandonment and neglect, would no doubt suffer permanently from trust issues were they to be taken away now and possibly separated into different foster care homes. In the four years they have been eligible for adoption, not one heterosexual couple has tried to do so. As they continue to age the odds of adoption will surely only decrease.
To give you how obviously bigoted this law is let me point out the following…
The state makes a third of its adoptive placement with single parents (since Gill can’t marry Roe he is “technically single”)
- Adoption ban came about in 1977 as part of an unveiled expression of bigotry when the state was experiencing a severe backlash to demands for civil rights by gay people in Miami.
- Adoption applicants with serious chronic medical conditions that could predictably compromise their ability to provide the physical, emotional, social and economic support necessary for a child to thrive are subject to review by the Adoption Review Committee. Fla. Admin. Code section 65C-16.005(9)(1).
- Individuals who have been convicted of (a) assault; (b) batter; or (c) a drug-related offense (Fla. Stat. §39.0138(3)) with the previous five years are NOT banned from adopting children. Though they do have to pass a review.
- Even individuals found guilty of a) child abuse, abandonment, or neglect; (b) domestic violence; (c) child pornography or other felony in which a child was a victim of the offense; or (d) homicide, sexual battery, or other felony involving violence, other than felony assault or felony battery when an adult was the victim of the assault or battery. Fla. Stat. §39.0138(2) are NOT banned. They are merely “carefully evaluated as to the extent of their habilitation. Fla. Stat. § 39.0138(2)”
So there you have it—people previously convicted of abusing children, domestic violence, assault, battery and drug sale or use are all given a chance to adopt a child but if you have the dreaded “gay disease” you are out and out banned from adoption regardless of your individual character. No review, no consideration, no adoption.
All of the above are probably predictors of person’s ability to parent, whereas sexual orientation is not. A child in need of love, safety, and stability does not consider the sexual orientation of his or her parent(s).
Of course the state brought out the usual attacks stating that gays and lesbians have a “higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse,” that “their relationships were less stable than those of heterosexuals,” and that “their children suffered a societal stigma.”
The defense was prepared for such an argument and had its own cadre of experts.
For example, Dr. Miachel Lamb, Professor of Psychology at the University of Cambridge who has spent 30 years researching the factors related to children’s development and adjustment, including children of gay and lesbian parents.
Starting with the most obvious, Lamb stated that since children have always been and will always be bullied by peers about parent’s appearance, employment, ethnic background, parenting style, etc. that “excluding homosexuals from adoption will not shield a child from being teased by his own peers.” For that matter I would like to add that each child will probably teased for reasons totally separate from their parents as well.
Furthermore, Lamb stated, that he can say with certainty that “children raised by parents do not suffer an increased risk of behavioral problems, psychological problems, academic development, gender identity, sexual identity, maladjustment, or interpersonal relationship development.”
The sexual orientation of the parent has no effect on the sexual orientation of the child, after all most gay and lesbians adults grew up with heterosexual parents themselves and yet due to no choice of their own they were born gay.
As for the parents themselves the defense turned to Dr. Susan Cochran, a Professor of Epidemiology and Statistics at the University of California, “an expert in psychology and epidemiology with a specialization in health disparities among minority communities, including lesbians and gay men, and in the use of statistical analysis in social science research.”
Her research shows that “sexual orientation alone is not a proxy for psychiatric disorders, mental health conditions, substance abuse or smoking; members of every demographic group suffer from these conditions at rates significantly higher than for homosexuals.”
Using Cochran’s research the defense showed that “while the average rates of psychiatric conditions, substance abuse and smoking are generally slightly higher for homosexuals than heterosexuals, the rates of psychiatric conditions, substance abuse and smoking are also higher for American-Indians as compared to other races, the unemployed as compared to the employed and non-high school graduates as compared to high school graduates, for example.”
Poignantly, Dr. Cochran pointed out that “if every demographic group with elevated rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse and smoking were excluded from adopting, THE ONLY GROUP eligible to adopt under this rationale would be Asian American men.”
Past researchers may have believed that traditional families provide the best environment for children but modern research has proven that the quality of parenting itself is the most important.
If you need further proof that research and law are on the side of the Gills you need only look at this list of organizations that have filed a friend of the court Amicus Brief on behalf of the Gills:
Children’s Health and Welfare Groups
- The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA)
- American Psychological Association
- North American Council on Adoptable Children
- Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
- Center for Adoption Policy
- Foster Care Alumni of America
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
- Florida Chapter of the NASW
- Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
Legal Advocates for Children
- National Center for Adoption Law and Policy
- Juvenile Law Center
- Lawyers for Children America
- National Center for Youth Law
- Southern Poverty Law Center
- Family Law Section of the Florida Bar
- Foster Children’s Project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County
- University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law Center on Children and Families Children & Youth Law Clinic of the University of Miami School of Law
- Florida State University College of Law Public Interest Law Center
- Florida International University Juvenile Justice Clinic
- The Barry University School of Law Children and Families Clinic
- The Nova Southeastern University Law Center Children and Families Clinic
- Child Advocacy Clinic at Hofstra School of Law
- Ohio State University School of Law
- Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center
- Loyola Chicago School of Law
- Children’s Law Center of Minnesota
- Justice for Children Project
- Support Center for Child Advocates
- Civitas Child Law Clinic
- Children and Family Justice Center of the Bluhm Legal Clinic of Northwestern University School of Law
Heck, according to trial testimony, even Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) which manages Florida’s foster and adoption programs agrees that “gay people and heterosexuals make equally good parents.”
Finally, a poll earlier this year by Quinnipiac University found 55 percent of Florida voters agreed the ban should be lifted.
You would think with all these child advocacy groups, legal groups, the DCF, and the majority of Floridians behind a lifting of the ban that such a thing would have already come to pass but the anti-gay rhetoric coming from groups such as the Liberty Counsel, a “nonprofit litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the TRADITIONAL family” is spearheading the opposition.
An advertisement in the Florida Law Journal entitled “What’s So Gay About It?” attacked the idea of gay adoption by claiming that “children feel sexually abused through association with the sights of the GLBT subculture” and that “pedophilia is a big part of the [GLBT] subcultures.”
It is close minded groups like these which will surely fight this issue until the end.
In the mean time children will languish in foster care system. And to give you an idea of the effects of foster care has on a child look at these statistics from “The High Cost of Denying Permanency: An Analysis of the Economic Impact of Florida’s Gay Adoption Ban:”
- Former foster youth are three times as likely to be in the criminal justice system as their non-foster peers.
- Former foster youth are nine times as likely to receive TANF as their non-foster peers.
- Florida’s state share of its TANF expenditures for FYE 2004 exceeded $368 million, the sixth highest in US.21
- Former foster youth are four times more likely than their peers to receive Food Stamps.
- Foster teens are 17.5 times more likely to be homeless than their non-foster peers.23 In state funds only, Florida homeless programs cost $25.7 million in 2003 with program responsibilities spread over nine state agencies.
- Former foster youth are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with a “less severe” learning disability and seven times more likely to be diagnosed with a “severe” learning disability than their non-foster peers.
- The typical traumas to which foster children are exposed in their families of origin, together with the stresses of multiple out-of-home placements make foster youth a predictably large fraction of the 29,069 children who are at risk of an emotional disturbance in Florida. These childhood traumas are recognized as correlating closely with the incidence of subsequent adaptive and behavioral problems. Children experiencing emotional disturbances spent an average of eight days in in-patient care.
Financially speaking Florida would benefit not only from making sure that these children become benefits to the states instead of adding to the self-perpetuating circle of poverty, homelessness and crime but also because federal government provides funding to states for each child adopted out of the foster care system, plus incentive payments of $4,000 to $6,000 per child to states that exceed the previous year’s number of adoptions.
Considering Florida’s unemployment benefits program is out of money and we are borrowing 300 million a month from the federal government until a new tax hike taking the minimum tax from 8.40 per employee to 100.30 per employee hits Florida businesses it seems ludicrous to deny the state funds for allowing eligible gay parents to adopt. When times are this tough does it make sense to deny the state money because we are too bigoted to let eligible parents adopt a child simply because they are gay?
If any of this has convinced you that this law is harmful to children, potential LGBT parents and Florida as a whole then I urge you to take any or all of the following actions:
- Support New Legislation Repealing the Anti-Gay Adoption Law: There are two bills that have been introduced in the Florida legislature to repeal the anti-gay law HB 3 by Representative Bradenburg and its Senate companion SB 102 by Senator Rich. Equality Florida regularly trains interested parties of 3-4 people on how to lobby their representative. They also conduct large scale lobbying events that you can take part in. One is coming up in December and another will happen in March. If you are interested in helping this bill pass, please contact them and ask how you too can be trained on how to meet your representatives so you can tell them that these bills need their support. You can read the full text of HB 3 here.
- Support the ACLU’s campaign the end the ban on gay adoption: The ACLU has recently kicked off a campaign this year to end the ban on gay adoptions in Florida by 2012 with the help of a $150, 000 grant from the tides foundation. http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights_hiv-aids/tides-foundation-awards-150000-aclu-florida-end-states-gay-adoption-ban As part of that campaign they are going to be conducting multiple training sessions through Florida over the course of the next three years to prepare people to fight any attempts to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay adoption. Go to ACLU Training to find a out a date a training is being held near you. http://www.aclufl.org/training/
To learn more about the Gill case go to ACLU-Gill. One great feature is a podcast of Martin Gill talking about how the two foster children he is raising are harmed by Florida’s law barring lesbians and gays from adopting.
You will also find links to the following resources in PDF:
- FAQ: What does this case mean for me and my family?
- News Release: Florida Trial Court Opens Way for Lesbians and Gay Men to Adopt
- Judge Lederman’s Final Order, 11/25/08 – redacted
- Gill Trial Transcript – redacted
- About the Plaintiffs
- The Science
- Expert BIOs
- Facts About Florida Foster Care
- Position Statements
First, a thanks to George S for bringing it to my attention that Bill McCollum, Florida’s Attorney General, who is working to repeal the decision giving the Gills the right to adopt, is running for governor of Florida.
According a November 21st article in the Palm Beach Post News, Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office had asked not only that Martin Gill not be allowed to adopt the two kids but that they be taken away from him and that the court should “make the children available” for adoption to someone else. Even though McCollum’s office was hired by DCF, DCF spokeswoman Flora Beal stated, “It’s a contradiction. We have no intention of removing the children from the Gill’s custody.”
“It’s a contradiction,” said DCF spokeswoman Flora Beal. “We have no intention of removing the children from the Gill’s custody.”
So far McCollum’s office has billed DCF nearly $400,000 for legal fees and other costs all while demanding a verdict that child welfare professionals at DCF firmly oppose. These specialist testified at the trial that the ban inhibits their ability to properly do their job i.e. place children with eligible adults.
The reason I am adding this update is because Bill McCollum is running for Governor of Florida and while he supported the recent Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Bill which extended federal protection to members of the LGBT community he opposed gay adoption. Some might say he is merely doing his job defending a law on Florida’s books but he is quoted as saying that he, “proudly defends the ban on gay adoption and believes that homosexuality fosters depression and psychological illness.”
On the other hand, his likely opponent, Florida CFO Alex Sink recently became the highest ranking Florida official to oppose the ban on gay adoptions. At the recent Equality Florida Broward Gala Sink stated, “I support changing current law because it is bad public policy for a child in need of a home to be arbitrarily barred from being adopted. Family law judges should have only one consideration in adoption cases: What is in the best interest of each child.”
At the Gala, Sinks was awarded the Voice for Equality award which was presented by Sen. Nan Rich who was last year’s award winner and is the lead sponsor of the SB 102, a bill to repeal the gay adoption ban.
The issue offers a contrast between Sink and McCollum that I would like to see highlighted during the election.
To that end I have drafted a petition urging McCollum to support a repeal of the gay adoption ban. He has already done the right thing once by supporting hate crimes legislation maybe he can do so again and we can actually have two candidates running for governor that would sign this legislation instead of vetoing it.