Florida; Jan. 11, 2005 – The US Supreme Court yesterday effectively upheld Floridaâ€™s controversial law prohibiting gays and lesbians from adopting children when it refused to hear an appeal, leaving Florida as the only state maintaining such a ban.
In deciding not to consider Lofton v. Kearney, the Court gave no explanation. The case was an appeal of a ruling by the 11th Circuit Court, which in a split 6-to-6 decision last July denied a request to rehear the case.
Briefs were submitted to the Court on behalf of several gay rights groups, who were hopeful that the 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned a Texas law against homosexual "sodomy," would be followed by a similar affirmation that the equal rights clause applied to gay people looking to adopt children.
Leslie Cooper, an attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay rights project, criticized the state of Florida for "hiring a private firm to handle the case," and says the stateâ€™s argument in court was not based on factual evidence.
"They never asserted that gay people could pose any threat to children, which they couldnâ€™t -- there would be no evidence of that," Cooper said. "They merely hypothesized or speculated that you could think it might be better for children to have a married heterosexual couple, compared to a gay couple. In other words, they speculated that gay people are inferior parents."
If previously the Court ruled a sex act was private, lawyers reasoned, the government could not use sexual preference as a criteria for rejecting an individualâ€™s application for adopting a child.
Gay right advocates were hoping the Court would extend the right to privacy precedent set in Lawrence v. Texas. If previously the Court ruled a sex act was private, lawyers reasoned, the government could not use sexual preference as a criteria for rejecting an individualâ€™s application for adopting a child.
The decision "sends a huge message that the Court is not going to be open to a broad-based homosexual agenda," Mathew Staver, president of the Liberty Counsel, told the Associated Press. Staver founded the Orlando based group that advocates for the "traditional family." The Liberty Counsel, along with the Marriage Law Project, submitted a friend of the court brief on behalf of the state. In a press statement, Staver added, "Common sense and human history underscore the fact that children need a mother and a father," an argument that opponents point out fails to address the needs of foster children who are sent from one group home to the next without any parents at all.
Linda Spears, vice president of the Child Welfare League of America, who filed a brief in support of overturning the gay adoption ban, says the more than 5,000 children in Florida hoping to find an adoptive family need stability and love, and the state law is unnecessarily limiting the pool of people who are willing and capable to provide for the children. Spearsâ€™ group is a nationwide association of agencies advocating for abused and neglected children.
"In selecting those families, you must first and foremost look at that list of needs, and match for the parent thatâ€™s able to meet those needs," Spears said. "Thatâ€™s just a priority for us. Without regard to the ethnicity of the parent, the sexual orientation of the parent, the marital status of the parent -- the ability for a parent to understand that children need to be attached to parents who are stable, loving nurturing, care providing [is] by far more important in our book."
Florida does allow gay adults to serve as foster parents, which opponents of the ban say is evidence that the law has no rational basis.
Four gay men who are raising foster children, and wanted to be declared permanent adoptive parents brought the original suit. Steven Lofton, the lead plaintiff in the case, is currently raising eight HIV positive foster children, and was named outstanding foster parent of the year by the Florida state Department of Children and Families.
The gay adoption ban was the culmination of a 1977 campaign against homosexuality as "immoral" and "against gods wishes" led by Anita Bryant, a Miss America runner up, who worked to repeal a Miami ordinance banning anti-gay discrimination. Bryant started an organization called Save Our Children, which claimed that gays were converting children to homosexuality. The state senator who sponsored the adoption measure, Curtis Peterson, said at the time that its purpose was to send a message to the gay community that "we're really tired of you" and "we wish you'd go back into the closet."
Florida became the last state to ban adoption based on sexual orientation of the prospective parent when the New Hampshire legislature repealed that stateâ€™s similar statute in 1999. Utah and Mississippi have laws barring homosexual couples from adopting children, but gay individuals are permitted to adopt in those states.
In the past 28 years there have been grassroots movements every few years to try and reverse the law, which now has seen all of its initial supporters retire from government.
In November, two-dozen non-profit groups formed The Coalition For Fair Adoption. Knowing the Supreme Court might not rule in their favor, they began lobbying Floridaâ€™s state legislators to overturn the law when they convene in March.
"We're really getting a positive response to this, especially from a lot of the moderate Republicans out there," said Karen Doering, a staff attorney with the Center for Lesbian Rights and a consultant to Equality Florida. "Weâ€™re providing the policy statements that are written by the neutral social justice groups. These are groups that have no agenda other than figuring out whatâ€™s best for kids. And these groups have come out with policy statements; theyâ€™ve studied the science, and they say, "Look, its clear now that children are not harmed in any way by being raised by gay and lesbian parents."