Toronto Star

Aug. 30, 2001, 06:31 EDT

Florida court upholds ban on gay adoption

The Toronto Star

MIAMI (AP) A federal judge today upheld Florida's ban on adoptions by gays, accepting the state's argument that married heterosexual couples provide a more stable home for children.

U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King said that two gay men who challenged the law failed to demonstrate that "homosexual families are equivalently stable, are able to provide proper gender identification or are no more socially stigmatizing than married heterosexual families."

The ruling drew sharp criticism from civil rights groups, who said an appeal is likely. An organization devoted to traditional family values praised the decision in the closely watched case, which could ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mississippi and Utah also ban adoptions by same-sex couples.

But the Florida law is considered the toughest in the United States, prohibiting adoptions by any gay or lesbian individual or couple. It was passed in 1977, the same year former beauty queen Anita Bryant led a crusade to overturn a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gays.

Steven Lofton and Douglas Houghton challenged the law as discriminatory after being told they could not adopt children in their care. Lofton, a foster parent, wanted to adopt a 10-year-old boy he has raised since infancy. Houghton is the guardian of a nine-year-old boy.

The judge acknowledged that the men have developed close bonds with the children "as close as those between biological parents" and formed "a deeply loving and interdependent relationship" with the boys.

However, he said, "given there is no fundamental right to adopt or be adopted, there can be no fundamental right to apply for adoption."

Casey Walker, an attorney who represented the state of Florida in the case, said the right to decide whether homosexuals should be allowed to adopt belongs to state lawmakers.

"The law is perfectly constitutional as a legislative policy choice," Walker said.

A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Jeb Bush said he supports the ruling.

Florida officials have displayed little enthusiasm for the adoption ban. The Department of Children and Families, for example, takes no public position on the measure.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Elizabeth Schwartz called the law "blatantly homophobic."

Lisa Bennett, who tracks gay-related family issues for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, said numerous studies have shown that adopted children raised by gays are just as likely to become happy and healthy adults as those raised by heterosexuals.

"This was a decision based on prejudice, not facts," she said.

Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, applauded the ruling, saying, "A child is best brought up in a two-parent family consisting of a man and a woman."

"We cannot risk creating a nation of sexually confused children by experimenting with homosexual adoptions or homosexual marriages," he said.

The state had argued that it is in a child's best interest to be raised in home with a married mother and father.

The judge noted that state officials consider families with a mother and a father to be important for a child's well-rounded growth and development. He also said primary consideration is given to couples who have been married a "sufficient length of time."

The judge did discount the state's argument that the ban is legitimate because it reflects the state's disapproval of homosexuality. "The court cannot accept that moral disapproval of homosexuals or homosexuality serves a legitimate state interest," he wrote.

Opponents have little hope that the legislature will revoke the ban.

"The legislature could remedy this the first day they meet in the next session, but given the level of hostility toward gay people by members of our Legislature, I frankly don't expect that," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

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