Court hears challenge to Florida adoption ban

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com March 05 2003 1:00 AM ET

Four gay men planned to ask a panel of federal judges Tuesday to overturn a Florida law barring gay men and lesbians from adopting children, challenging the law for the first time in federal court. The men are foster parents who want to adopt the children in their care but are unable to do so because of the 1977 law.

"It's discriminatory and hateful, and it does nothing to benefit children," said Steven Lofton, one of the men challenging the law. Lofton is a pediatric nurse who became a foster father to an HIV-positive infant in 1991. His foster son, now 11, no longer carries the virus. Florida is the only state in the nation that has a blanket prohibition against adoption by all gay people, whether partnered or single. The law has withstood several challenges in state court. The men, who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the appeal last year. A panel from the 11th circuit U.S. court of appeals was set to hear arguments in the case for a half hour Tuesday in a Miami courtroom.

The Florida Department of Children and Families is named as a defendant because that agency decides who can be foster parents and who can adopt the 3,400 children who have been removed from abusive and neglectful homes in the state. The men appealed after U.S. district judge James Lawrence King dismissed their lawsuit in 2001. He said the law is in the best interest of children. "Plaintiffs have not asserted that they can demonstrate that homosexual families are equivalently stable, are able to provide proper gender identification, or are no more socially stigmatizing than married heterosexual families," King wrote.

Casey Walker, the state's attorney, argues that the state has a right to legislate its "moral disapproval of homosexuality" and its belief that children need a married mom and dad for healthy development. ACLU attorneys said they will argue that the state's policy of leaving neglected children in foster care when gay men and lesbians are willing to adopt them is the only immorality. "It doesn't matter whether you accept or reject the idea that kids do better with married people," said Leslie Cooper, staff attorney with the ACLU's National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "There is nothing to be gained from excluding gay people from adopting children that's going to make more married couples available to adopt them."