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In Florida the Earth Has Shifted

In Florida the Earth Has Shifted

Charlesperez

COMMENTARY: At 12:21 p.m. on Thursday, Miami time, an e-mail came across my desktop. It read, "Victory! The Florida Law Banning Gay Adoption Is Unconstitutional!"

After sitting on it for 13 months, Florida's third district court of appeal finally issued its ruling. Immediately, I forwarded the e-mail to my husband, Keith. Twenty minutes later he called me. "I couldn't stop crying," he said.

What had just happened was a momentous thing. The earth had shifted a bit.

Martin Gill and his partner just wanted to adopt the two boys they'd been fostering since 2004. They wanted to make the only stable home the boys had ever known permanent. You'd think it would have been an obvious choice and a speedy decision to reach. It wasn't. Overturning established law is no easy thing to do. For Martin Gill, however, it was much more personal.

I've met Martin Gill. He is a gentle man with a strong sense of purpose -- to love his family. For Rosie O'Donnell, it was the same when she helped lead the effort to overturn the state's ban back in 2004. They took it to the voters and it failed. Cynthia Nixon has taken a similar stand, hoping to take the issue before Florida voters again in 2012. But if Thursday's ruling teaches us anything, it is this: Rights and privileges for the few are rarely extended by the hand of the voter at the ballot box. That's why we have the courts.

In America slavery did not end until 1865. Women did not gain the right to vote until 1920. Black students in Arkansas could not attend Little Rock Central High until 1957. And interracial marriage was not legal throughout the land until 1967. In each case change came without the consent of the majority. As the framers of our Constitution knew, justice should not always be up for a vote.

What happened in Florida is that the advocates of bigotry could no longer make a reasonable case. A three-decade-old law banning adoption by gay people collided with evidence, and the result was a family for Martin Gill. Now we can only hope the people will come along and, as with interracial marriage, give birth to a new generation where those former prejudices are no longer acceptable.

Florida is not an easy state to push forward. It's burdened with its share of institutionalized bigotry, and nudging it into the future is a Herculean task. Martin Gill, however, took on that task, along with his partner. Together, with their two beautiful boys, they inched all of us into the future, fueled not by hatred or by legalese but by the power of love. It is enough to make any progressive or any constitutionalist proud. It is enough to give all of us hope. It was enough to bring my husband to tears.
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