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Couple challenges Florida adoption ban

Couple challenges Florida adoption ban

A federal appeals court in Atlanta will hear a Florida gay couple's challenge to a state law barring gay men and lesbians from adopting children. Wayne LaRue Smith and Daniel Skahen of Key West would like to adopt the 5- and 6-year-old boys they have foster-parented for the past two years. Gay people are the only group categorically restricted from adopting children in Florida. Even people who have abused drugs and alcohol or people who have a history of domestic violence may adopt under some circumstances. State courts have upheld the law, with a state appeals court ruling in 1993 that the ban could be justified because gay parents are unlikely to be able to give heterosexual children sound dating advice. But this is the first time a federal court has considered the ban. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that states are required only to offer plausible rationales for laws that single out gay people. Florida officials have offered two. Judge James Lawrence King of federal district court in Miami rejected the first, that the law was a "legitimate expression of public morality as it bears on the questions of what environments are best for children, and what groups of people are entitled to recognition as families." "The court," he wrote, "cannot accept that moral disapproval of homosexuals or homosexuality serves a legitimate state interest." But he accepted the second reason, that children are better off with married heterosexual couples. Children, the state's lawyers wrote, should be "raised in homes with married mothers and fathers due to the stability provided by marriage and the contribution of male and female influences to childhood growth and development, including heterosexual modeling." Judge King accepted that and upheld the law. He noted that the federal constitution "is not a license for the courts to judge the wisdom, fairness, or logic of legislative choices." Matthew Coles, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, which represents the plaintiffs, said he would urge the appeals court to consider the plight of Florida's children. "Nobody was breaking down the doors to come in and take care of these kids," he said, referring to the two boys in Key West. "These people have given these kids a childhood they never would have had. If the state of Florida had an ounce of decency, they would be trying to find more parents like them." While the state has vigorously defended the adoption law, it also recently consented to a novel arrangement for the younger boy fashioned by a state judge. In December the judge, Sandra Taylor, made Smith and Skahen the younger boy's permanent legal guardians. She wrote that the men were "model parents," that the boy "is bonded and attached" to them "and is in a stable and nurturing environment."

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