TALLAHASSEE — Martin Gill and his partner breathed a big sigh of relief after learning that Attorney General Bill McCollum on Friday had announced that he would not appeal last month's appellate court ruling striking down Florida's 33-year law banning adoptions by gay couples.
"This is the first time in five years I feel like we can have closure as a family," Gill said.
Gill of North Miami approached the American Civil Liberties Union in 2005 for help in challenging the law. He and his partner's parental rights were about to be terminated and the couple's two foster sons, then 4 months and 4 years old, were about to be put up for adoption.
"This turns the page on an ugly chapter in Florida history," said Howard Simon, the ACLU of Florida's executive director. "It has been a long, long road."
Since the late 1980s, he said, the ACLU has been involved in five lawsuits in both the federal and state systems challenging the ban.
Technically the law remains on the books until the Legislature repeals it, but Simon said it's dead.
Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Department of Children and Families had already announced they would not appeal, leaving only McCollum's office, which represents the DCF, to decide whether to ask the Florida Supreme Court to consider the case.
"The constitutionality of the Florida law banning adoption by homosexuals is a divisive matter of great public interest," McCollum said in a statement. "As such, the final determination should rest with the Florida Supreme Court, not a lower appellate court."
But after a review, he said he concluded "this is not the right case to take to the Supreme Court for its determination."
McCollum, who leaves office early next year, said he hopes "a more suitable case will give the Supreme Court the opportunity to uphold the constitutionality of this law."
In the tight gubernatorial race, Democrat Alex Sink has said she would support same-sex adoptions, while her opponent, Republican Rick Scott, opposes it.
"What I believe is marriage is between a man and a woman. … I believe that children are raised in a more healthy environment if they are raised by a married couple," said Scott when asked in Wednesday's debate whether he thought homosexuality is immoral.
In the race for attorney general, Democrat Dan Gelber has praised the appeals court's decision and agrees gays should be able to adopt. His opponent, Republican Pam Bondi, has said she supports the ban, but recently refused to take a position on the controversial issue.
"This law, by baselessly branding gay people unfit parents, was one of the most notorious antigay laws in the country, and we are delighted that it has been ended once and for all," said Leslie Cooper, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project, who argued the case before Florida's Third District Court of Appeal.
"This victory means that the thousands of children in Florida who are waiting to be adopted will no longer be needlessly deprived of willing and able parents who can give them the love and support of a family."
Gill said he and his partner have tried to protect the two boys, now 6 and 10, from the publicity surrounding the legal challenge. But he said "they do know they're part of an important court case."
Because they were still in the foster system, the faces of the boys, who were known as NRG and XXG, were never shown in public. Only the backs of their heads were seen when they appeared on television, for example.
Even though the boys' adoptions now will become final and they have enjoyed certain perks such as being invited to the White House Easter Egg Roll, Gill said he still intends to protect their privacy.
Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.