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Gay adoption before Florida Legislature, courts

By ILEANA MORALES, Associated Press

MIAMI -- When Martin Gill met two young brothers named John and James, whom he later adopted, they had ringworm and no smiles. Four years later, at ages 4 and 8, their smiles come easily.

When Dennis Baxley met an 8-month-old baby named Jeff, whom he too adopted, the boy had been shaken to the point of brain damage and blindness. Baxley said they had an "instant bond".

For all three children, adoption meant rescue from abuse or neglect.

But Baxley is among several Christian leaders who doesn't think Gill should have been allowed to adopt.

Gill is gay.

Now the state Legislature is faced with a bill aimed at overturning the state's 1977 ban on gay adoption, and Florida's Third District Court of Appeals must resolve a lawsuit over the issue stemming from Gill's case. The case is likely to move on to the Florida Supreme Court.

The court case will likely resolve questions posed by gay rights advocates before the bill does.

The legislation is expected to die without coming to a vote before the Legislature adjourns next week.

"This year the bill is not going to be going anywhere to be honest with you," said the sponsor, Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise. "The best chance to get a change in this state ... will be with Gill."

The high court will hold preliminary hearings soon on Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman's ruling that allowed Gill to adopt the boys in November. Her ruling said the ban violates equal protection rights for the children and their prospective gay parents.

"I may not be the world's greatest parent," Gill said. "But for those two kids I'm the best parent."

Former state legislator Baxley and other conservatives want the state to maintain its gay adoption ban and support the Department of Children and Families' decision to fight Lederman's ruling and the Legislature's decision for a seventh straight year to maintain the law.

They say it's better for the children to remain in foster care and keep their chance to be adopted by a heterosexual person or couple than to be adopted by a gay person or couple. More than 3,000 children in Florida's foster care system await adoption, most of them having suffered abuse or neglect.

"Lederman's decision is wrong," said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council. "She asked, 'Is there any harm done by being in a gay family?' Well, that's not that the standard. The standard is what's best for kids."

He said the bill is "dead" because it's bad policy.

Florida allows gays to foster, but not adopt. Michigan, Mississippi and Utah disallow unmarried couples to jointly adopt, which rules out gay couples.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association both support allowing gays to adopt, saying there is no evidence that being raised by a gay person is harmful. Stemberger says such groups are biased.

"I don't trust those organizations because they're not doing consensus reports," Stemberger said. "Most of those organizations have very politicized committees that are making those decisions."

Stemberger referred to studies from some sociology professors and the Center for Law and Social Policy. A director from the organization said children live better with their married, biological parents, but the group does not take a position on gay marriages or gay parents.

A psychologist testifying for the state in the Gill case said gay parents provide unfavorable homes because they are less stable and more prone to depression, substance abuse and disorders.

But that was a minority opinion in Lederman's courtroom. Numerous experts in child psychology, social work and other fields testified that there is no science to justify a gay adoption ban.

Even DCF attorney Neil Skene acknowledged Gill "is a wonderful foster parent."

Lederman wrote in her ruling the brothers are Gill's "now and forever." It will probably be several months before the higher court rules in the case. Gill refuses to think he might lose.

"I kind of refuse to believe that that can happen," Gill said, lowering his voice. "That may not be the best legal statement, but I can't go there."

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