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BreakOUT: Florida State and the Future of Gay Adoption

Chelsea Phillips

Florida state law currently bans lesbians and gay men from adopting children. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is attempting to get a case before the Supreme Court that could overturn the law. The ban on gay adoption has been in place since 1977, when the state legislature almost unanimously condoned restriction of the rights of its gay citizens. Legislation on the issue was sparked by Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign, which raged through Florida and even beyond spreading myths about homosexuality and linking homosexuality to pedophilia. At the time of its inception, Senator Curtis Peterson, one of its primary supporters, spoke to the law's true purpose: "The problem in Florida has been that homosexuals are surfacing to such an extent that they're beginning to aggravate the ordinary folks. We're trying to send them a message, telling them: ˇ®We're really tired of you. We wish you'd go back into the closet" (1).

The state's attitude, while becoming more equally divided on the issue, has not changed significantly enough to overturn the law. An appeal was made to a three-person appeals panel, which upheld the law. A request for reconsideration of the decision made to the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which encompasses the geographic area of Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, was denied. This denial has allowed the ACLU to bring the case before the Supreme Court for consideration.

Perhaps most indicative of the law's blatantly homophobic basis is the fact that the state has no restrictions on using gays and lesbians to relieve the burden on the foster care system. The state frequently uses gay couples to provide homes for disabled and terminally ill children, but refuses to recognize that this more than qualifies them to be adoptive parents. The ACLU case involves three families: two of which are currently providing foster homes for Florida's children. One of these families in particular has become a rallying cry for those interested in the case.

Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau started their experience with the Florida foster care system almost fifteen years ago. The first of their six foster kids were Frank and Tracy, placed with the two men within a month of each other when both were infants. Ginger, the third, was placed with them soon after, and Bert arrived when Frank and Tracy were four. In 1995, at age six, Ginger died of complications from AIDS, the disease which prompted the state to place her with Steve and Roger initially. It would be rare to find the families so willing to take on children requiring such extensive medical attention.

Bert, now ten, was also HIV positive when he was initially placed with Steve and Roger. However, his course of treatment has been successful enough to make the virus undetectable- a joyous thing for any family. Unfortunately, since the current ban on gay adoption does not allow the men to adopt Bert, the state is actively looking for a family to place him with. So long as the HIV tests came back positive, the state would not place Bert with a family- he was only suitable for foster care with the disease. The intolerable cruelty of the system is never more evident than in this case: two men commit their lives to these children, Steve even leaving his job at the state's request, and pay the price for their good care of a sick child by making him "adoptable" in the eyes of the state.

Bert has become the central focus of the Lofton Case. Frank and Tracy are fourteen, the age at which children are no longer considered actively "adoptable" and the two youngest children in the family are from Oregon, where the Croteau-Lofton family moved to be closer to Steve's parents in Portland. The family's pediatrician noted what good parents these two men were and recommended them to a case worker. When the state approached Steve and Roger with Wayne and Ernie, both HIV positive, the family welcomed them with open arms. Although the family is large, it is thriving, but the constant threat of losing Bert is taking its toll.

Blatant segregation within the foster care system only underscores the homophobic nature of the ban on gay adoption. Using the state's gay and lesbian couples, Florida can effectively segregate the "normal," "adoptable" children from the "damaged" children by placing them in a closet. The system capitalizes on the powerless position of gay and lesbian couples who want to have children and has frankly disgusting latent implications that HIV and AIDS are "gay" diseases- making the children suitable for gay couples.

Oregon, where the family is now living, has received mixed ratings from the Human Rights Campaign on gay adoption. The HRC determines its overall adoption score by considering three different kinds of adoption: gay individuals, gay couples and second-partner adoptions (for example, in cases of divorce). Oregon does not have a good record for adoptions to gay couples, but has a good record for gay individuals and a mixed one for second-parent adoption. Individual adoptions, however promising they may look for the future of gay adoption on paper, do not mean that the state is supporting gay rights, merely that it is more difficult to determine the sexuality of a potential parent without a partner present. Unless the state specifically questions the parent's sexuality, gay and lesbian individuals are being held to the same standards and heterosexual individuals-and being granted the right to adopt just as frequently. This very fact should actually guarantee that gay adoption is legalized. However, the ACLU is not using this evidence in the current case against Florida, perhaps because of the negative impact this fact could have in other states- bringing attention to the loophole could close it.

The Supreme Court's history when dealing with unconstitutional state laws is promising for the ACLU. The Court has consistently upheld the principle that state law cannot disenfranchise a specific group or be used to express disapproval of lifestyle choices of its citizens. The ACLU will present two cases, Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas, to remind the Court of this fact. Both of these cases deal specifically with laws that targeted gays and lesbians. In fact, possibly the best way to guarantee adoption rights for gays and lesbians in the future is to have a Supreme Court ruling to look to as precedent. Even as the moral tone of society in a particular time and place creates legislation, it is impartial deference to the facts of a case which change that legislation, and so feed the larger societal view of an issue. Political rhetoric plays to the emotions of an audience, but the legislation must reflect facts- and the facts in this case favor the ACLU and the rights of gays and lesbians.

"No study has found any evidence to support the claim that lesbians and gay men are unfit to be parents" (2). A number of major psychological studies on varying aspects of parenting have been conducted to determine whether being raised by same-sex parents disadvantages children. The findings of these are summarized here, but will be more fully explored in the final paper. Each of the studies, seven in all, approached the issue in a slightly different way. The long-term psychological health of children raised by same-sex parents was found to be no different than those raised by heterosexual parents. A small number of studies were exclusively devoted to studying self-esteem, and also found no variation between the results in these two groups. Peer relationships are also unaffected, sexual orientation of the children is unaffected by sexual orientation of the parents, and parenting skills among gay men and lesbians are found to be as good as, and sometimes better than, heterosexual parents.

Major questions to be asked of these studies is how exactly test subjects are chosen, and how something like quality of parenting skills is measured. If, for example, there is no screening process amongst the heterosexual test subjects, accidental pregnancies, which cause psychological strain on any family, could be negatively affecting outcomes. Also, many of the studies are on children who are genetically related to one parent- insemination. It is unclear without going more in-depth into the studies whether adoption makes a different or larger psychological impact on children than insemination. It is certainly true in any case, however, that a child of a same-sex couple could not be raised with the belief that they were created in the "traditional" way, as is possible when heterosexual couples choose not to tell children that they were adopted. Single lesbian motherhood and single heterosexual motherhood are also compared with one another. However, one of these studies involved a comparison of single lesbian mothers and divorced heterosexual mothers- all of whom had children with their ex-husbands. The potential for calling into question the compatibility of these two groups largely rests on the assumption that the added trauma of being "outed" during the divorce process would not affect the overall health of the mother or the child. It is a large assumption to make, and one which must be sufficiently addressed to validate the study.

The examination of legislature and its relation to public opinion, political rhetoric and obligation to the known facts has been difficult to do sufficiently in the five page assignment. The factual and historical evidence presented here will allow for more analysis in the final fifteen page paper, as well as a more in-depth survey of psychological studies which the ACLU will use if the case is brought before the Supreme Court. This court, because of its visibility in the nation and the world, is held to the highest possible standard of impartial decision-making. The authority given to and recognized in the Court is nearly infallible and must therefore not be undertaken lightly; whatever the decision, it will shape the framework in which we discuss the issue of gay adoption. This is true. We must recognize the fearful power of one to appoint these decision makers without a sufficiently balanced congress- it is the ability to embody political rhetoric within a judicial structure. Rhetoric itself may and does sway public opinion, but its embodiment is the ability to set precedents which may be applied in broad-sweeping generalities, rather than the specifics of a single law.

WWW Sources

1)ACLU, Background information on the specific case in Florida.

2)Let Him Stay, Specifically devoted to the Croteau-Lofton case giving detailed information on the family, laws and legislation affecting the case.

3)Human Rights Campaign, State-by-state information on both current and pending legislation on a wide range of issues affecting the LGBT community.

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