The American Civil Liberties Union believes a change in Florida's adoption policy boosts its challenge of a law that prohibits gay people in the state from adopting children. An attorney for the state notified the federal appeals court of a new Department of Children and Families policy that makes it easier for single people to adopt children and that the department no longer expresses a preference that married couples adopt children. It also voided a rule that bars unmarried couples who are "sexually cohabitating" from adopting. While the letter from attorney Casey Walker said the rule changes don't undermine the state's gay adoption ban, the ACLU disagrees. The group said the earlier DCF preference for married couples was the basis of the argument supporting the ban.
"What the department has said in this case all along is, the reason we don't want to let gay people adopt is because we want everyone to have a mother and father," ACLU lawyer Matt Coles said Wednesday. "And that has always been, quite honestly, ridiculous." The ACLU and the advocacy group Children First say the 1977 law, pushed by antigay activist Anita Bryant, should be thrown out because it unconstitutionally discriminates against gays and limits opportunities for thousands of Florida foster children.
The state does allow gay people to be foster parents and permanent legal guardians. The suit challenging the law was filed by four gay men who have been taking care of foster children for years. They appealed after U.S. district judge James Lawrence King dismissed their case in 2001, saying the law is in the best interests of children. Florida's law is unique--Utah and Mississippi bar gay couples from adopting but not gay individuals.
The ACLU wrote to the appeals court Tuesday saying that the rule changes support their argument. "This removes any conceivable shred of support for the notion that the state's interest in disqualifying gay people from adopting is to promote a policy of preferring placement with married couples," wrote lawyer Leslie Cooper.
However, DCF spokesman Bill Spann said, "This administrative rule in no way invalidates Florida statute prohibiting same-sex partners from adopting."