For all of Florida's problems, the state is making progress in thousands of children's lives due to an unprecedented effort to support and promote adoption of foster children. Gov. Charlie Crist will travel the state today to celebrate a record number of adoptions in 2008-09 and to encourage more Floridians to consider adopting a child.
But Crist and the state should do more by finally lifting the state's hypocritical ban prohibiting gays and lesbians — even those the state has sanctioned as foster parents — from adopting children. The 32-year ban is the only such blanket prohibition in the country. And it means fewer chances that nearly 20,000 foster children available for adoption find loving, permanent homes. That isn't rational or right.
Last year, 3,776 Florida foster children were adopted, besting the year-earlier record by more than a hundred, which was 19 percent higher than the year before. Clearly part of the success is due to the coordination under Crist's leadership to inform would-be parents of the impressive array of services and resources available.
Foster children qualify for free tuition at a state university or community college; many come with a monthly subsidy to help cover costs and free health care under the state's Medicaid program until they are 18. And unlike private adoptions, the cost of adopting a state foster child is minimal.
But make no mistake, the families who adopt foster children deserve society's gratitude. Their sacrifice eliminates much of the taxpayers' cost for a child's care, and it increases the odds the foster child has a productive life.
There's hope that soon the same opportunity will be available to gay and lesbian adults who wish to adopt. In December, a Miami-Dade circuit judge, ruling in a case in which two gay men were seeking to adopt two foster boys in their care, ruled that the state's adoption ban violated the state Constitution because it wasn't in the child's best interest and discriminated against one class of residents. The 3rd District Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear the state's appeal of the case next month.
Hopefully, the state's courts will embrace what the Legislature and Florida's governors have denied for three decades: It is in no one's interest to deny foster children a dedicated and loving parent based solely on sexual orientation. A poll earlier this year by Quinnipiac University found 55 percent of Florida voters agreed the ban should be lifted.
Florida should celebrate its adoption successes, but it cannot pretend its current system is sufficient or fair.