The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to overturn a law that prevents gay Floridians from adopting children.
The ACLU had filed the lawsuit on behalf of four gay men whom Florida ACLU director Howard Simon said "are about as close to being saints as anybody I've ever seen in my life" because of their care for disabled children.
At least two of the plaintiffs have been foster parents, which points to one of the ironies in Florida law. The state does allow gay men and women to raise children, by licensing them as foster parents, even though the law does not allow adoptions.
Simon said the Supreme Court's decision not to take up the case, which it made without comment Monday, was "really kind of infuriating; we've never had our day in court on this."
Gay advocates have said gay and lesbian couples could provide stable and loving homes for thousands of children waiting to be adopted out of Florida's foster care system.
Florida Christian Coalition executive director Bill Stephens welcomed the Supreme Court's decision, saying, "We're just pleased that children are going to get protected, that courts are doing what's in the best interest of children and keeping them in heterosexual homes."
He and other supporters of the ban said the court's ruling promotes the most stable and helpful family arrangement for children.
"Marriage is the union of one man and one woman because it's best for our children and best for our society," said Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, a Christian law organization in Orlando, which filed a brief in the case.
Florida's gay adoption ban was passed by the Legislature in 1977, just after Anita Bryant, the popular singer and Florida orange juice promoter, had campaigned against a gay rights ordinance in Miami. Florida is the only state with a blanket ban on gay adoption.
Although the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal, Stephens called Monday's decision "the beginning of the battle, I certainly don't think it's over."
Neither does Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, which strongly supports overturning the ban.
"What this does is finally place the responsibility for fixing this law squarely on the Legislature," Smith said. She said her group has approached several lawmakers and hopes to know soon whether any will introduce a bill this year to change the law.
Gov. Jeb Bush said he was pleased with the court's stance.
"It's the law of the state, and I think it's the appropriate law," Bush said.
The Florida Department of Children and Families, which oversees the foster care and adoption system, has declined to comment extensively on the lawsuit that the state's lawyers have been fighting for years. DCF spokesman Tim Bottcher said only, "Florida law is clear on this issue, and the Department of Children and Families will continue to act accordingly."
In 2001, a federal judge ruled against the four gay men without a trial. The judge described one plaintiff as having demonstrated "a deeply loving and interdependent relationship" with the children he was caring for. But even so, that didn't mean Florida's law violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, as the lawsuit had claimed.
A three-judge panel on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta rejected the plaintiff's appeal last year, and the full court decided on a 6-6 vote not to reconsider.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.