Florida attorneys push for repeal of adoption ban
By unanimous vote, the executive council of the family law section of the Florida Bar has decided to push for a repeal of the state's ban on adoption by gays. "Fundamental fairness demands that healthy parents should be allowed to adopt regardless," said Evan Marks, a Miami attorney who became chairman of the section last month. Florida is the only state in the nation with a complete prohibition on adoption by gays, whether single or as a couple. The law, which was passed in 1977, has survived three state court challenges.
Most recently, a Miami federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by four gay men seeking to adopt children to whom they are foster parents or guardians--the plaintiffs include Steven Lofton, who with his partner, Roger Croteau, is raising three Florida foster children--and on January 11, a U.S. circuit court of appeals ruled against the men. The federal appeals court said the issue was one that should be decided in the legislature. Two years ago nearly two dozen state lawmakers filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the federal lawsuit, defending the right of the legislature to ban adoptions by gay people in order to "further the public moral sense." A bill filed in the state senate this spring to repeal the ban went nowhere.
Mathew Staver, president of the antigay Liberty Counsel, said last week that his group would "vigorously oppose repealing the law." Staver said it's irrefutable that children do best when they are raised by a mother and father. "We should not experiment with the future of children by creating a policy that undermines children being raised by a mom and dad," he said. Staver also said several states have banned adoptions by gays. A handful of others have allowed them, but most are silent on the issue, he said. Two states--Mississippi and Utah--prohibit only gay couples from adopting. Alabama's supreme court recently ruled against adoptions by gays.
In Florida, before the family law section can press lawmakers to repeal the adoption ban, it needs approval from the board of governors of the Florida Bar. Membership in the bar is a requirement for practicing law in the state. So the key issue the 52-member board of governors will consider later this summer is whether allowing the family law section to push for repeal of the ban is divisive among legal professionals. About 4,200 lawyers belong to the section, which is governed by an executive council of about three dozen attorneys. Just five months ago, the executive council voted 17-7 against repealing the ban, based on the argument that pushing for a repeal would be divisive. "I thought that was absolutely ridiculous," Marks said. When he became chair of the section in June, he brought the issue up again. "It's one of those cutting-edge issues in family law, and it was one of those things that needed to be addressed," Marks said. He told the section that the theme of his one-year term would be "fundamental fairness for Florida families."
A dozen mainstream groups, such as the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, have come out in support of allowing gay people to adopt.
"Once these groups got on board it had a snowball effect," Marks said. The Florida Bar board of governors rejected the idea of pushing for repeal in 1991, deciding it would be too divisive an issue among lawyers. But Marks said he's optimistic that the board would approve the position now. "Fortunately, people have become more enlightened," he said. But as for the fate of the idea in the legislature, "that is a different story," he said.