Navigating Florida's Adoption Ban

Navigating Florida's Adoption Ban

COMMENTARY: “Are you a homosexual?” she asked.

“Excuse me,” I responded.

“Are you a homosexual?” she asked again.

It was not her second question or the third, but the first question once I told her I was interested in adopting.

Her name was Sue. She was the on-phone representation of Our Kids, one of Miami’s premier adoption agencies. Given Florida’s law against adoption by gays, I didn’t blame her for her question, but I didn’t like it either. I knew if I were to tell the truth, that my partner and I are gay men who want kids, the call would be over. I knew if I lied, we might move forward and maybe even end up with a child, acquired under false pretenses with one of us as the parent and the other pretending, all the while building a web of lies to prove our acceptability to a system that has deemed us unworthy.

Unwilling to lie, I told her the truth, and the call quickly ended.

All we wanted were kids and a family, when there are so many kids inthe state of Florida who need families.

David Strah, in his book Gay Dads, talks about the growing phenomenon of gay fatherhood and how so many of us, upon coming out, thought we had to give up the dream of ever becoming a parent. Instead, Strah argues, the instinct to build families and raise kids is a part of who we are, straight or gay. It is a right of being human that we don’t have to abdicate because of our sexual orientation.

That said, I wish the state of Florida felt the same.

Not long after that call, my husband and I were invited to a welcome-home party for beautiful twin boys who had been adopted by a former colleague and his same-sex partner. The boys were born in Pennsylvania and were now, at 1 year old, finally coming home. Their story gave us hope, but it also raised a lot of questions. How did they locate these boys? How did they manage this out-of-state adoption? Was the adoption legal in Florida? And why’d it take a year to bring them home? Little did I know these questions and their answers would drive our lives for the next year.

CHARLES PEREZ MAIN X390My former colleague directed us to an out-of-state attorney who
specialized in counseling prospective adoptive parents. Familiar with
Florida’s adoption laws, he made one thing very clear: “When
we locate the right baby for you, you’ll likely have to move there,
take up residency, and wait out the six months to a year for the
adoption to be finalized before you can go back to Florida.”
Additionally, we were told, without reservation, were we to return to
Florida before finalization, the Department of Children and Families
has the right to take our child away from us and put our child into
foster care. We could then lose our child forever.

“But,what if we were straight?” I asked.

“Then you’d take your baby
right home,” he responded. “Florida would honor with full faith and
credit the court’s decision in the birth state and you’d wait for
finalization while living at home in Florida.”

“Wow!” I
responded. “Not only is Florida discriminating against gay people as
parents, but also against those of us who can’t afford the time of
the money to disappear for up to a year.”

“Exactly,” he said.

reality made me sad. As an unemployed former news anchor I had the
time, and as my husband has a great job, we could make
it work financially. But what about the schoolteachers who’d make
great parents? Or what about all those loving and embracing gay working-class and middle-class would-be
parents who might make the choice
to adopt if only the state of Florida didn’t stand in their way?

grateful for our relatively good position, we decided to move forward,
and so we scheduled a home study with a Florida state-approved child
placement agency.

The home study went great. They reviewed our
histories, our families, friends, education, finances, pet records,
and medical records. They came to our home and put their findings
together in a report that would be delivered to any judge considering
placement. We felt great about it, but there was one significant
catch. No matter what they’d concluded, it was against the law for us
to be approved. No set of circumstances, no matter how potentially
favorable to an adopted child, could be enough to get approval.
Approval was against the law.

CHARLES PEREZ 2 X390In good faith, however, they did the next best thing. Hoping a judge in another state would read between the lines, they wrote, “This agency — regrettably — cannot pursuant to Florida Statue 63.042(3) approve either Mr. Perez or Mr. Rinehard for adoption. However, I can offer this: But for Florida Statue 63.042(3), this agency would highly recommend Mr. Perez and Mr. Rinehard as adoptive parents without reservation.”

Though these words would not open any doors in Florida, they would open doors somewhere else. Our first stop was Missouri.

Mary Ann was identified as our first potential birth mother. She said she was pregnant with twins, a boy and a girl! After two weeks on the phone and a couple of Western Union cash transfers, everything changed. We wanted her medical records to both confirm her pregnancy and learn the health of the baby. That’s when she disappeared.

Next there was Cindy. Cindy lived in a Chicago halfway house designed to get her back on her feet after serving prison time. We liked that she lived in a controlled environment and had been in prison since the earliest days of her pregnancy. She talked to us about her dreams for her daughter and how she knew we were the ones to parent her child. But then, on a trip to Chicago to meet her, she turned. She was demanding money like only a drug addict or someone who’s been around one can understand. She left her halfway house, returned to the streets, and decided to spend the last trimester of her pregnancy on crack cocaine. She told us, “This is not about you. It’s not about the baby. It’s about me.” We walked away.

Finally, we came to the woman who would be our birth mother. She was a smart, sweet, drug-free young woman from Kansas who just didn’t want to have another child. She didn’t seem to care that we were gay, and neither did the state of Kansas. Kansas has no laws supporting adoption by gays but also has no laws banning it.

Having asked us to be in the delivery room, we cut the umbilical cord
and witnessed our daughter’s first courageous reach up and out of the
womb and into the world. It was glorious. Tears ran from our eyes for
about three days. They were tears of love and gratitude. Gratitude for
our beautiful daughter, for the gracious and generous birth parents who
put their baby ahead of themselves, and gratitude for the state of
Kansas that put its babies before bigotry.

Then, in the midst of
this celebration, we received a final slap from the state of Florida.
We discovered we were unable to get health insurance for our little girl
because our insurance policies required that any adoption be in
compliance with Florida Statute. Now, we thought, not only are they
hurting us, they’re hurting our baby. So for now, we wait, pray for
good health, and hope that Medicaid will fill any gap should anything
unthinkable happen.

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride, filled
with hope and disappointment, love and acceptance, birth and renewal.
But, in short, we’d do it again. The experience of seeing our love
amplified into a family has had the effect of making all those other
important things in our lives seem small. It is a blessing that we
deserve. But, more importantly, it is a blessing every Florida child

So, for now, we remain in Kansas, blissfully changing
diapers, alternating midnight feedings, staring into her deep blue
eyes, and wondering why this couldn’t have happened in Florida.