Thursday, January 29, 2009

Conservatives Turn to G/L Adoption

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Observer Update) - Civilian soldiers expect the fight over Gay adoption in Florida to continue another three years, while a legal fight over adoption rights in Arkansas is just getting under way. Meanwhile, activists are watching legislative calendars in the event battles over Gays adopting children ignites in other states this year, reported. They wonder: Will a recent victory for Gays seeking to adopt in Florida deter an escalation of the fight on the part of conservatives? Or will a recent victory for conservatives seeking to prevent Gays from adopting inspire more skirmishes?

“It’s really hard to tell; it’s so early,” said Paul Cates, director of public education for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project. “Most state legislatures are just going back into session.” “Oftentimes,” said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council headquartered in Boston, “politicians propose these anti-family pieces of legislation just before the filing deadlines to avoid public scrutiny — a classic example of playing politics with people’s lives.” Based on her best “educated guess,” Chrisler suggested watching Midwestern and Southern states, especially South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

In 2006, Gay rights activists saw anti-Gay adoption pushes in 16 states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia. The legislative fight resumed and failed in Tennessee last year. “What fives me a little pause now is the Tennessee Legislature is controlled by Republicans,” Cates said. Adoption is an issue decided state-by-state, often on a case-by-case basis.

Nebraska does not allow second-parent or co-parent adoptions. Mississippi bars same-sex couples from adopting. Utah bars unmarried, cohabitating couples — Gay or straight — from adopting. Arkansas, by popular vote in November 2008, also bars cohabitating couples — Gay or straight – from adopting. Florida is the only state to explicitly ban Gays and Lesbians from adopting children. Florida owes its law banning Gays from adopting children to an early emergence of Christian right power, that of Jerry Falwell and Anita Bryant and the Save Our Children crusade in 1977. Bryant led a campaign to repeal an anti-discrimination ordinance that fueled legislative interest in the anti-Gay adoption law, which specifically states, “No person eligible to adopt under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual.” Florida someday may owe the repeal of that law to a Gay couple, their sons, their attorneys, an abundance of science on parenting and an informed judiciary.

A lawsuit seeking to overturn the 1977 statute is making its way through Florida’s state courts. In the suit, being handled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Frank Martin Gill wants the right to adopt the two foster care boys he and his partner have raised since 2004, along with a third son. After a four-day trial, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Cindy Lederman ruled in Gill’s favor Nov. 25, 2008, just a few weeks after Arkansas voters approved Act 1 to bar Gay adoptions. Lederman wrote, “Sexual orientation is not a predictor of a person’s ability to parent. A child in need of love, safety and stability does not first consider the sexual orientation of his parent.” Removed from the custody of their biological parents and an environment perilous to their physical, emotional and educational well being, the boys in Gill’s care “now flourish,” according to their trial judge.

The victory for Gays in Florida’s courtroom and the loss for Gays in Arkansas’ ballot box followed a pattern often seen in the fight over marriage. The group that spearheaded the ballot campaign in Arkansas, the Family Council Action Committee, is a statewide grassroots organization associated with Focus on the Family and James Dobson. The Arkansas campaign for Act 1 put out the message that the anti-Gay measure “put kids first,” and its passage “blunts the Gay agenda.”

A campaign flier distributed prior to the Nov. 4, 2008, vote stated, “Children should never be used to advance a political agenda. Arkansas has no law to prevent adoptive or foster children from being placed with homosexual couples. Act One prevents Gay activists from using Arkansas children to advance their agenda.”

Focus on the Family has the organizational system and the experience to escalate an assault on Gay adoptions. The organization gained a national reputation and nationwide clout with its anti-Gay ballot drive in Colorado in 1992 and has affiliates around the country. A flurry of statements and op-ed pieces from Christian right organizations about the need for children to have both a father and a mother and the need to “halt the Gay agenda” followed the Arkansas vote.

But conservative organizations aren’t reading enthusiasm for a big battle over Gay adoptions in public opinion polls or counting inspiration in campaign contributions. Nationwide polls show that a plurality of Americans think Gays should be allowed to legally adopt children and a minority believe otherwise. In Arkansas, less than a month before the vote, a survey by the University of Arkansas found 55 percent of voters opposed to the ban. Also, organizations seeking to ban marriage equality in California, Florida and Arizona generated big money for ballot initiatives last year — about $50 million — but the Family Council and Family Council Action Committee struggled to generate cash and even reported a campaign debt last spring.

“I don’t think it was the home run they were thinking it might be,” Cates said of the Arkansas ballot drive. Chrisler said, “I wonder how tired people are of being asked to act and give out of fear for something they are beginning to see as nothing to be scared about.” For various reasons, those involved in protecting or securing adoption rights for Gays do not expect the issue to become a full-fledged war with battles waged in 50 states or in Congress. “Conservative forces in this country may continue to push foster and adoption bans like the one in Arkansas in an effort to replicate their strategy around marriage bans, but the issues are quite different,” Chrisler said. “Most Americans understand and believe that decisions about adoption and foster care are best left in the hands of professional social workers, adoption placement agencies and objective judges.”

Statutes or appellate court decisions allowing same-sex couples or second-parent adoptions exist in 13 states and the District of Columbia and courts in 15 other states have issued orders that uphold Gay adoption rights. “The fact that we are having to have this fight in a few states doesn’t reflect the fact that the vast majority of this country is with us,” said ACLU of Florida attorney Robert Rosenwald, who represents the Gill family. He described the efforts to ban Gays from adopting as “the last desperate act of people who want to reserve family to fit their own definition” — and an effort that is not supported by scientific or legal arguments. In cases involving children, science is important and the opinions of child welfare experts carry a lot of weight. In the Gill case, the judge observed that the fact that parental sexual orientation has no impact on children’s well-being has “been accepted, adopted and ratified by” the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Child Welfare League of America and the National Association of Social Workers. “We have a factual record based on science,” Rosenwald said.

The judge went on to point out the dubious testimony from the state’s experts who offered pseudo-science and religious opinion. “We are in a child-welfare crisis,” Cates said. “And there is no denying the fact that Gay people are capable of providing good homes.… It is hard for people to put aside the needs of children.” While it is unclear whether adoption fights will develop in other states, the fights in Arkansas and Florida likely will continue for some time. The ACLU only filed its case against Arkansas’ Act 1 in December alleging the measure violates federal and state constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. In Florida, the Third District Court of Appeals recently turned down the ACLU’s request that Lederman’s ruling, appealed by the Florida Attorney General’s Office, go directly to the state supreme court for consideration.

Rosenwald estimated the case might take three years to reach a legal conclusion. “It will be a historical moment if we can successfully persuade the Florida courts to finally abandon this law,” Cates said. “It will be a great moment.” Meanwhile, John and James Doe, the foster care children Martin Gill wants to permanently adopt, will remain in Gill’s home, living what Rosenwald described as a “great life.”

(Neff is a columnist for, from which this is reprinted.)

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