The Florida Senate has followed the state House in officially repealing the state's ban on adoption by gays and lesbians, a law rendered unenforceable by a court decision five years ago.
The repeal measure is part of an adoption incentive bill that now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature after the Senate approved it in a 27-11 vote Tuesday "after a brief but intense debate," the Tallahassee Democrat reports.
Republican Sen. Alan Hays called the repeal provision "a poison pill that will not enable me to vote for the bill," according to the Democrat. "Think of the long-term implications for all of these children," he continued. "That's what it's all about -- put the politics aside and think about the children."
"That's me. I'm a long-term implication," responded Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens, who was born to a teenage single mother and then placed for adoption, the paper reports. "I think your God would want you to give an opportunity to those hundreds of children across the state of Florida who need a second chance," he told Hays.
A key Republican supporter of repeal was Sen. Don Gaetz. He noted that Florida has 852 children in foster care, awaiting adoption. Three-quarters of them have been in foster care more than a year, and 767 of them are special-needs children, he said.
"I ask you today, follow the law. Follow the law that says we don't discriminate," he told fellow legislators, the Democrat reports. "Follow the law that says we're going to give these 852 kids the best chance we can."
Some conservative lawmakers supported a so-called conscience protection bill that would allow adoption agencies, even those under contract to the state, to turn away prospective parents if the agency has moral or religious objections. The state House approved that measure last week, but it has little chance of passing the Senate with just three weeks left in the legislative session, according to the Tallahassee paper.
"That conscience clause ought to be here now," said Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican. "My guess is that conscience clause is coming down here and it's going in a ditch." He also said legislators should have had the opportunity to vote separately on the repeal and on the main bill, which offers financial incentives for public employees to adopt children and to agencies to encourage placement of children.
The state's adoption ban, enacted in 1977, is a relic of entertainer Anita Bryant's antigay campaign in Florida. A court struck it down in 2010, but it has remained on the books although unenforceable. LGBT rights group Equality Florida called on Scott to sign the repeal bill.
"While it has been legal for gays and lesbians to adopt in Florida for several years, this symbolic action would finally move our state past its Anita Bryant era of discrimination and intolerance," said Equality Florida chief executive Nadine Smith in a press release. "We urge the governor to do what's best for all children and all families and sign this bill into law."