Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announced Friday (October 22) that he will not challenge a September 22 state appellate court ruling that overturned Florida’s ban on adoption by gay men or lesbians. This means the 33-year-old ban has ended.
Frank Martin Gill, who filed the lawsuit in an effort to secure the adoption of the two boys he and his partner have raised for almost six years, said in a statement from the ACLU of Florida, which argued the case, “We are relieved that this process has finally come to an end, and that we can focus on being a family.”
The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) had said October 12 that neither the agency nor Governor Charlie Crist (I) would appeal the appellate ruling. McCollum, however, retained the attorney general’s independent right to appeal up to October 22.
The brief statement issued by McCollum’s office Friday said that the constitutionality of the adoption ban “is a divisive matter of great public interest” but that, after reviewing the merits of an independent appeal to the state Supreme Court and considering the decision of its client, DCF, not to appeal, “it is clear that this is not the right case to take to the Supreme Court for its determination.”
McCollum said that, although he would not appeal, he still felt “the final determination should rest with the Florida Supreme Court, not a lower appellate court.”
McCollum has been criticized by LGBT rights groups and others for paying clinical psychologist Dr. George A. Rekers more than $120,000 to testify in the trial court that children do best with a mother and a father. The appeals court upheld the lower court’s finding that Rekers’ opinions “were not valid from a scientific point of view.” (Rekers was later found traveling with a gay male escort who claimed Rekers himself was gay, although Rekers has denied it.) The Miami Herald reported in June that it had obtained records showing that McCollum hired Rekers despite repeated objections from DCF.
McCollum told the Florida Baptist Witness in August, “I don’t believe in gay adoption”—but Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas reported that, in May, when he had asked McCollum if he favored taking the boys from Gill, McCollum mentioned a gay campaign aide who had adopted children and said, “Let’s leave it at that.”
The October 22 statement from McCollum’s office said, however, “No doubt someday a more suitable case will give the Supreme Court the opportunity to uphold the constitutionality of this law.”
One pending case that has made headlines is that of Vanessa Alenier, a lesbian who, in January, was allowed to adopt the infant cousin for whom she was a permanent guardian. The Third District court heard arguments in that case just last month.
A spokesperson for DCF, Joe Follick, said the agency has not yet determined whether to drop its appeal in the Alenier case. He added that it would consider that the case would be heard by the same appeals court that ruled the ban unconstitutional in the Gill case.
A spokesperson for the ACLU of Florida, Brandon Hensler, said his group thinks it unlikely that another case would be used to challenge the overturning of the ban.
“The breadth of social science and child welfare research–spanning 25 years–proves irrefutably that gays and lesbians make every bit as much of a good parent as straight parents,” said Hensler. He said judges, not legislators, should decide on a person’s fitness to adopt, and “We are confident that, if the facts and the science ever did make it to the Supreme Court, we would win there, too.”
DCF’s Follick noted that, after the September 22 appellate court ruling, DCF stopped asking prospective adoptive parents about their sexual orientation, and removed the question from its forms.
The state legislature had passed the ban in 1977, under pressure from television personality Anita Bryant and her anti-gay “Save Our Children” organization.
The two boys at the center of the case will now be legally tied to one—but not both—of the dads who have raised them. Gill and his partner, who has not been identified in court documents, felt they would stand no chance if they sued for a joint adoption. Whether they will now seek a second-parent adoption making the partner a legal parent as well—or if the state would grant one—remains an open question.
Gill noted in his statement, however, “Our boys have overcome difficult beginnings to become happy, healthy kids. All children deserve a chance at finding a stable, loving and permanent home.”