Florida’s gay adoption law irrational

By Steve Chapman

The state of Florida is not ridiculously selective when it comes to letting people adopt children — and with some 4,200 kids in need of adoption, it can’t afford to be.

It allows single adults to adopt. It accepts people with serious illnesses and disabilities. It leaves the door open to drug addicts. It is even willing to consider people who are known to have neglected, abandoned or abused children.

It doesn’t accept homosexuals.

That’s the law in Florida, the only state that singles out gays and lesbians in this way. And apparently it’s going to remain the law. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a constitutional challenge to the ban on gay adoptions, which has the effect of upholding the policy. This decision also prevents a 13-year-old boy from securing a permanent home with the two men who have been his foster parents since he was an infant.

At birth, the boy had cocaine and marijuana in his system and tested positive for HIV (though he no longer does). He was taken in by Steven Lofton, a registered pediatric nurse whose two other foster children have AIDS, and his partner, Roger Croteau. Lofton has taken care of the kids full-time for the past decade, efforts that earned him an Outstanding Foster Parenting award from the Children’s Home Society. He also has been a foster parent to five other kids with HIV or AIDS.

But his exceptional devotion doesn’t impress the state of Florida. When Lofton applied to adopt the boy 10 years ago, the Department of Children and Families, which had previously said he was perfectly suitable to serve as a foster parent, was not allowed to consider him as an adoptive parent.

Normally, the state assesses applicants individually, on the crazy assumption that it should focus on what’s best for the child. But when the prospective parent is gay, the interests of the child go out the window. Despite everything Lofton has done for the boy, the state is trying to place him in another home.

This approach is not the preference of the people charged with looking after the needs of kids. When the state’s chief adoption official was asked under oath if there is any “child-welfare reason at all for excluding gay people from adopting children,” she answered: “No.”

The original impulse, it turns out, was not to protect children but to penalize gays. The measure, passed in 1977, was an offshoot of singer Anita Bryant’s successful campaign to repeal a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against homosexuals. The bill’s chief sponsor explained it as a valiant effort to open lines of communication with gays: “We’re trying to send them a message, telling them: ‘We’re really tired of you. We wish you’d go back into the closet.'”

The state now insists it has perfectly pure motives for the ban. It says a child’s interest is best served in a stable home that includes a married mother and father. This kind of family, it argues, gives a child good gender role models and spares her from “social stigmatization” about her parents.

If the state really wanted to avoid such stigmatization, it might stop treating such parents as if they are a menace and a disgrace. Expressing moral disapproval of homosexuality, after all, is one of the reasons Florida gives for the ban.

As for gender role models, it’s not clear how important they are in a child’s development. Almost all gays grow up with heterosexual parents and nonetheless adopt a different “gender role.” Sexual orientation aside, Steven Lofton looks like a pretty decent role model. If Florida thinks gender role modeling is so critical, why does it let children spend years living with gay foster parents like him?

The state’s supposed preference for married couples is not exactly fanatical. The law specifically allows unmarried adults to adopt, and some 25 percent of state-approved adoptions are by singles.

At any rate, the choice for many adoptable children in Florida is not between a homosexual couple and the ideal heterosexual household, but between being adopted by homosexuals and not being adopted at all. This policy is one reason so many Florida youngsters are growing up without a permanent home.

But the state’s official position is that children languishing in foster care are better off with no parents than gay parents. That’s not just unconvincing but incomprehensible.

Steve Chapman writes for Creators Syndicate. Contact him at: schapman@tribune.com