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Few have the courage to fight gay adoption ban

For 31 years, Florida has barred gays from adopting children — the only state with such a blanket prohibition.

On May 11, 1977, the day the state Senate passed the law, freshman Sen. Don Chamberlin of Clearwater asked his colleagues: "Will we sleep better knowing we have institutionalized shame for those who have already felt shame?

"Is there sufficient justification to deny one child — one parent — the joy of being a family?" he asked.

Other senators praised his courage, but only four voted with him: Betty Castor of Tampa, Jack Gordon, Kenneth Myers and Lori Wilson.

Chamberlin could give the same speech to the Senate tomorrow, and the result likely would be the same.

Every year, when a bill is filed to repeal the ban, opposition mobilizes. When Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, indicated a willingness to hear the bill in 2006, he was targeted with e-mail from the Christian Family Coalition, warning about "homosexual extremists."

Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, will file the bill again.

"We need to get rid of it," Rich said. "However it gets done, we need to protect children."

Tuesday in Miami, a judge ruled the law unconstitutional after child psychologists and other experts testified that no scientific basis exists to justify a ban on gay adoptions.

"Sexual orientation is not a predictor of a person's ability to parent," Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman wrote. "A child in need of love, safety and stability does not first consider the sexual orientation of his parent."

Martin Gill and his partner in North Miami are raising two brothers, 4 and 8, who have been foster children since 2004. Gays can be foster parents, but can't adopt children in their care.

The state will appeal the judge's decision, which means a showdown before a rapidly changing state Supreme Court. Gov. Charlie Crist has appointed two socially conservative justices, and will have two more openings soon.

If this case reaches the high court, it will be a key test of its philosophical orientation.

Appealing the ruling under Crist is the Department of Children and Families, led by George Sheldon, a lifelong Democrat from Tampa who supported equal rights for gays and lesbians as a state legislator in the 1980s.

Crist said in March that the best place for a child is a "traditional family," and he's the leader of a state where 63 percent of voters have just defined marriage in the state Constitution as only between a man and a woman.

The day before the Miami decision came down, Crist took part in a joyous ceremony noting the rise in adoptions of foster children over the past year.

Crist, a self-proclaimed "live and let live" Republican, hired a child advocate, Jim Kallinger. They launched a media campaign to promote adoption, especially for the children hardest to place — older kids, siblings and children with disabilities or medical problems.

So it follows that the governor would take a keen interest in the Miami case and its implications. He has not yet commented on the decision.

In brief remarks at the adoption ceremony, Crist spoke of the value of giving foster children "a nurturing upbringing, I don't know what could be more important than that."

That's all Martin Gill said he wants for those two boys.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Few have the courage to fight gay adoption ban 11/28/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 29, 2008 11:36pm]
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