BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER, cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com
A Miami-Dade circuit judge Tuesday declared Florida's 30-year-old ban on gay adoption unconstitutional, allowing a North Miami man to adopt two foster kids he has raised since 2004.
In a 53-page order that sets the stage for what could become a constitutional showdown, Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman permitted 47-year-old Frank Gill to adopt the 4- and 8-year-old boys he and his partner have raised since just before Christmas four years ago. A child abuse investigator had asked Gill to care for the boys temporarily; they were never able to return to their birth parents.
''This is the forum where we try to heal children, find permanent families for them so they can get another chance at what every child should know and feel from birth, and go on to lead productive lives,'' Lederman said in court before releasing the order. ``We pray for them to thrive, but that is a word we rarely hear in dependency court.''
''These children are thriving; it is uncontroverted,'' the judge added.
Moments after Lederman released the ruling, attorneys for Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announced they would appeal the decision to the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami.
''We respect the court's decision,'' said attorney Valerie Martin, who had argued in support of the ban during a weeklong trial Oct. 1-6. But, she added: ``Based upon the wishes of our client, the Department of Children & Families, we have filed a notice of appeal this morning.''
The attorney general's office had argued that gay men and lesbians are disproportionately more likely to suffer from mental illness or a substance abuse problem than straight people, rendering them less fit to parent -- especially children in foster care who already are under tremendous stress.
Gov. Charlie Crist, a former attorney general who has expressed support for the adoption ban, declined to comment Tuesday, saying he hadn't yet reviewed the ruling.
Gill, who is raising the half-brothers with his partner of eight years, said he was ''elated'' by the ruling.
''I cried tears of joy for the first time in my life,'' he told reporters outside Miami's juvenile courthouse at 3300 NW 27th Ave. His mother appeared with him in court.
The ban on adoption by gay families, he said, does not lead to more children being raised in traditional households, since foster and adoptive families have long been in short supply in Florida.
Instead, he said, ``It results in more children being left without any parents at all. They don't have a mom or a dad.''
Lederman, who overseas Miami's juvenile and child welfare courts, is the second judge this year to declare the state's blanket ban on adoption by gay men and lesbians unconstitutional.
In August, Monroe Circuit Judge David John Audlin Jr. wrote that Florida's 1977 gay adoption ban arose out of ''unveiled expressions of bigotry'' when the state was experiencing a severe backlash to demands for civil rights by gay people in Miami.
''Disqualifying every gay Floridian from raising a family, enjoying grandchildren or carrying on the family name, based on nothing more than lawful sexual conduct, while assuring child abusers, terrorists, drug dealers, rapists and murderers at least individualized consideration, `` Audlin wrote, was so ``disproportionately severe'' that it violates the state and U.S. Constitutions.
In her ruling, Lederman said children taken into state care have a ''fundamental'' right to be raised in a permanent adoptive home if they cannot be reunited with birth parents. Children whose foster parents are gay, she said, can be deprived of that right under the current law.
''The challenged statute, in precluding otherwise qualified homosexuals from adopting available children, does not promote the interests of children and, in effect, causes harm to the children it is meant to protect,'' Lederman wrote.
The judge added: ``There is no question the blanket exclusion of gay applicants defeats Florida's goal of providing [foster] children a permanent family through adoption.''
In a ruling that, at times, reads more like a social science research paper, Lederman dissected 30 years worth of psychological and sociological research, concluding that studies overwhelmingly have shown that gay people can parent every bit as effectively as straight people and do no harm to their children.
''Based on the evidence presented from experts from all over this country and abroad,'' Lederman wrote, ``it is clear that sexual orientation is not a predictor of a person's ability to parent. Sexual orientation no more leads to psychiatric disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, relationship instability, a lower life expectancy or sexual disorders than race, gender, socioeconomic class or any other demographic characteristic.
''The most important factor in ensuring a well-adjusted child is the quality of parenting,'' Lederman wrote.
Marc Caputo of The Miami Herald's Tallahassee bureau contributed to this story.