Jounelle Joseph, 15, could have been another sad statistic, a child entering adulthood wholly unprepared after a lifetime shuttled from one foster home to another. But two months ago, a change in state adoption law made it possible for the Tampa middle school student to find a permanent home with a family who loves him. Jounelle's story should put to rest forever the suggestion that Florida should resurrect a ban on prohibiting homosexuals from adopting.
As St. Petersburg Times' staff writer Alexandra Zayas detailed last Sunday, Jounelle arrived on the doorstep of a young lesbian couple in 2009 after moving an estimated 20 times. Yvonka De Ridder and Eleanor Ecoffey, first-time foster parents, opened their apartment to the boy, began talking to him about why he fought at school, attended his football practices, took him to movies and the mall. They held him accountable for lies and his language, they talked to him about birds and the bees. In short, they parented him. But they also fell in love with him.
On March 11, the young women did what Jounelle had thought impossible after so many years in foster care: They gave him stability and a family. De Ridder adopted Jounelle, with Ecoffey's full support. (The law does not allow unmarried couples, even heterosexual ones, to co-adopt.) Now Jounelle is doing better in school and dreaming of a future as a high school football player and later, an animation director. He has hope.
That is the part of the equation that opponents of gay adoption never fully appreciated in the 33 years Florida barred homosexuals from adopting children – but permitted them to serve as foster parents. State leaders of both political parties tolerated bigotry against homosexual Floridians, and they ignored the collateral damage to countless children who were denied a chance at a stable home and loving parents simply because the parents might not fit a traditional mold.
Last September, a Miami appellate court ruled unanimously that the ban was unconstitutional and said there was no "rational basis" for excluding gay men and lesbian women from the pool of potential adoptive parents. In October, then-Gov. Charlie Crist announced he would respect the appellate court's ruling and not appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court, leaving open the potential for another legal battle should a future governor decide to enforce the ban.
Gov. Rick Scott, so far, has made no moves to change course. That's good. Jounelle Joseph now has a far better shot at a good and productive life thanks to the guidance of two loving parents. Every foster child deserves that same chance, even if their adoptive families don't fit the image of June and Ward Cleaver.