"This is about all the families that never were and all the families that still can be," said actress Cynthia Nixon, as she, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, announced the start of a three year campaign to reverse Florida's shameful ban on gay adoption.
"No other group of people in the state of Florida is categorically denied from adopting," she said. "Not felons. Not sex offenders. Not wife abusers. Not child abusers. Only gay people, regardless of the quality parent they may make. All we're asking for is the right to be evaluated, just like everybody else."
It was a crystallization of the issue that permeated across the hundreds in attendance with the clarity of a trumpet, to an audience of men and women, straight and gay all together in support of reversing a legislative action that reached back to Anita Bryant.
In attendance at the Miami Beach event, held at the famous Shore Club, was the man who now has the hopes of progressives and fair minded Floridians and Americans firmly gripped to his coat tails.
Martin Gill and his partner have been raising their two foster children for more than five years. When the brothers came to them they were scared and insecure. One of them was near catatonic, having suffered the abuse of a system and a birth family that left one emotionally damaged the other physically unhealthy and both with few options. Martin and his partner took them in.
Now, five years later, both boys are thriving and Martin and his partner want to adopt them and make them "legally" what they already are, a family. And so, Martin and his family are taking on the ban, with the very real fear that these brothers may be taken from them by Florida's Department of Children and Families and placed in another, or, most disturbingly, in two other foster homes, separating the brothers. According to Martin, who says he somewhat reluctantly found himself in this position, this has to change. He has the support of Judge Cindy S. Lederman, a Florida judge who in 2008 granted the adoption, declaring the Florida law unconstitutional. That ruling is now being challenged by the state. As for Gill, he continues to courageously walk forward, surmounting one legal hurdle at a time, as he does his best to protect his family's privacy, one day at a time.
And so, on Saturday night, January 9th, the woman who played the lawyer on Sex and the City and the man who would have preferred never to have been in the spotlight, stood together, for a cause which Ms. Nixon said we have no choice in fighting if we believe in families. At their sides, a Republican congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, taking a stand not common among South Florida's Republican congressional delegation, and Senator Nan Rich, a Florida State legislator who has made the fight for women and children the center of her political life. These are not the kinds of pro-family women that likely would have been familiar to one-time Florida orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant.
In 1977, the former singer and beauty queen championed the fight to reverse Dade County's new-found ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Anita Bryant's campaign, "Save Our Children," became an effective tool in defining gay men and women as recruitment hungry, anti-family pariahs willing to do whatever it takes to get to your children. It was a fear based campaign that resulted in the Florida legislature approving a ban on gay adoption. Today, 33 years later, Florida is the only state in the union which categorically bans gay men and women from adopting children.
In the years that followed, Florida has maintained a less than impressive record of child placement into adoptive homes. Last year, 1,475 of these kids aged out of the system, never having been placed in permanent homes, left to fend for themselves without the guidance and support of a family. Often, homelessness and substance abuse are what await them on the other side in a world where they are often grossly unprepared.
Gay adoption will not be the single solution to this problem, but it is a step in the right direction. Certainly, for some of these kids, it will be the answer. As cited by Senator Nan Rich at Saturday's event, there is not sufficient justification to deny even one child the possibility of a good home.
And so, on this rare record-breaking cold South Florida Saturday night, we were reminded by Gill's attorney, the ACLU's Advocate for LGBT rights, Robert Rosenwald, that hell may very well have frozen over and that the time for change is now.
It will be a long campaign, timed with the 2012 election. It will be influenced by those on the right and those on the left. It will likely become about politics and legislative and congressional seats and the balance of power. It will be twisted and turned and used as a rallying point in churches and by political fund raisers.
But, at the end of the day, as Cynthia Nixon so eloquently made crystal clear, it is about families... the families that never were and the families that still could be.
Anita Bryant, by the way, who no longer lives in Florida, continues to practice her own ministry, Anita Bryant Ministries, and stands behind her former actions and the consequences of her campaign.
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