Today, my oldest son turns eight. Also today, the ACLU is back in court in Florida challenging the constitutionality of that state's thirty-year old law which prohibits lesbians and gay men from adopting. If I lived in Florida, I would not have been permitted to adopt my son because I am gay.
Despite the arguments that the state will make in court today, the adoption ban has never been about the well-being of children. In fact, the law was enacted in 1977, two years before the first reported case of an adoption by an openly gay person anywhere in the country. In other words, when the Florida legislature passed the gay adoption ban, there had not been a single reported case of an adoption by an LGBT person in that state.
This tells us that the Florida adoption ban, from the very beginning, has been more about politics and sending a message of disapproval of homosexuality than about the well-being of children. Indeed, one of the state senators who sponsored the ban explained at the time that "the problem in Florida is that homosexuals are surfacing to such an extent that they're beginning to aggravate the ordinary folks, who have rights of their own." The law, he added, was aimed at telling gay people to stay in the closet.
The ban was part of the backlash stoked by social conservatives like Anita Bryant after Dade County, in the mid-1970s, became the first southern municipality to enact a gay rights ordinance. Although the ordinance had nothing to do with children--it simply prohibited sexual orientation discrimination in employment and housing--Bryant and other conservative activists formed an antigay organization called "Save The Children." The group's literature claimed that "the recruitment of our children is absolutely necessary for the survival and growth of homosexuality--for since homosexuals cannot reproduce, they must recruit, they must freshen their ranks."
These outrageous claims led not only to the passage of a referendum repealing the gay rights ordinance, but also to the enactment by the Florida legislature of the adoption ban that is still on the books.
Florida's gay adoption ban is immoral because it harms children. The ban leaves scores of children, who would otherwise be adopted, subjected to a troubled foster-care system that has historically failed to protect many children from harm. Florida contends that the adoption ban is necessary because it is better for children to be adopted by married heterosexual couples than by lesbians and gay men. It is undisputed, however, that there are many more children who are eligible for adoption in Florida than there are married heterosexuals who are willing to adopt them.
The issue for these children is not, as the state will contend in court today, whether they will be better off with straight or gay parents. The issue is instead whether the children will have parents at all. To leave these children without parents under the care of a foster-care system with a poor track record in promoting the welfare of children is immoral because it places the well-being of children at risk.
But as the history of the law shows, the ban has never really been about the welfare of children. Indeed, if Florida truly believed that lesbians and gay men constituted a threat to children, it would not allow them to serve as foster parents or as legal guardians. But for many years now, Florida child welfare officials have regularly asked lesbians and gay men to serve in those capacities, especially when it comes to children who are difficult to place because of disabilities or behavioral problems. Lesbians and gay men, then, are apparently good enough to provide care for children when no one else will, but not good enough to be deemed the full legal parents of those very same children, with the kind of stability and continuity in the children's lives that would come with such a recognition.
There have been other efforts to challenge the ban before, including one in the federal courts a few years ago that failed. The ACLU is trying again, this time in the state courts. Sooner or later, the ban will be struck down or repealed. In fact, I expect that when my eight-year old son is an adult, he and others of his generation will look back at these types of laws with dismay and wonder how laws that were ostensibly aimed at protecting children actually ended up harming them.