CIVIL rights groups criticize ruling that upholds Florida ban on gay adoptions

Friday, August 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ Despite acknowledging that two gay men have a family-like bond with the boys in their care, a federal judge ruled that Florida has the right to stop them from adopting the children.

U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King's decision Thursday upholding the state's ban on gay adoptions drew sharp criticism from civil rights groups and the plaintiffs' lawyer, who denounced the law as ``blatantly homophobic.''

``This was a decision based on prejudice, not facts,'' said Lisa Bennett, who tracks gay-related family issues for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign.

But the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Washington-based 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.

Steven Lofton and Douglas Houghton sued 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 9-year-old boy.

The judge accepted the state's argument that heterosexual couples provide better homes for children.

King said he doesn't question that the couple and children have close emotional ties _ ``as close as those between biological parents.'' But he said the law is in the best interest of children.

``Plaintiffs have not asserted that they can demonstrate that homosexual families are equivalently stable, are able to provide proper gender identification or are no more socially stigmatizing than married heterosexual families,'' King wrote.

Bennett, of the Human Rights Campaign, said numerous studies have shown that adopted children raised by gay men and lesbians are just as likely to become happy and healthy adults as those raised by heterosexuals.

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

But the Florida law is considered the nation's toughest, 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.

``It is blatantly homophobic and there's no other rational basis for it than that,'' said Elizabeth Schwartz, a lawyer representing the men.

Casey Walker, an attorney who represented the state Department of Children and Families, said the Legislature has the right to decide whether homosexuals should be allowed to adopt.

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

Gov. Jeb Bush said he supported the ruling.

The judge did discount the state's argument that the law 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.