BY MARY ELLEN KLAS AND CAROL MARBIN MILLER, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that he doesn't have any immediate plans to change the state policy on gay adoptions but he remains opposed to it -- as does his new appointee to the agency that handles adoptions of children in state care.
``I believe that adoption should be by a married couple,'' Scott told reporters and editors at the annual Associated Press planning session in Tallahassee.
Scott's opposition to gay adoption is in line with his new appointee, David Wilkins, whom he named secretary of the Department of Children & Families on Tuesday.
Wilkins, who retired last year as global managing director of sales for Accenture Health and Public Service business, has also served as the finance chief for the Florida Baptist Children's Home, a private agency that allows only ``professing Christians'' to adopt children in its care.
Scott said he and Wilkins have not discussed whether to attempt to challenge an appeals court ruling from Miami-Dade that said the state law banning gays and lesbians from adopting is unconstitutional. Shortly after that ruling, DCF said it would no longer enforce the ban.
Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said the governor has no plans to revive the ban on gay adoptions at this time.
``The governor's priority is job creation and not setting new legal precedent at DCF,'' Burgess said.
Florida's law banning adoption by gay men and lesbians was struck down last summer by Miami-Dade's Third District Court of Appeal in a case brought by Martin Gill, a Miami man who spent six years trying to adopt two foster children who had suffered serious neglect.
Scott's remarks Wednesday came the same day Gill's adoption of the two brothers was finalized in a ceremony in the Miami courtroom of Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman.
Outgoing DCF Secretary George Sheldon and former Attorney General Bill McCollum chose not to appeal the appeal court's ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, and Sheldon ordered his leadership team to cease enforcing the ban.
Though Scott opposes gay adoptions, ``he will follow the law, whatever the law is,'' Burgess said. Scott said it doesn't matter what Wilkins' personal view is. ``I'm the governor and whatever my position will be, will be the position that will be enforced,'' he said.
Also on Wednesday, Attorney General Pam Bondi said she has no plans to challenge the appeal court's decision.
``We are following through with what Gen. McCollum did on that and chose not to continue,'' she said at the AP meeting.
Despite those assurances, adoption and child-welfare experts worried Wednesday that Scott and Wilkins could trigger a challenge to the court ruling by refusing to approve gays as adoptive parents.
They also expressed alarm at Scott's comments that only married couples should be considered acceptable parents, warning that opposing adoptions by single men and women could have dangerous consequences for Florida's already stressed child welfare system.
``We would be a state bursting with legal orphans,'' said Lederman, who has presided over child-protection cases for 16 years and estimates that 80 percent of the adoptions of foster children she sees are to single parents.
In the past four years, DCF administrators have reduced the number of children in out-of-home care from about 29,225 children to 18,510 -- a 36 percent drop, said DCF spokesman Joe Follick.
Howard Simon, head of the ACLU of Florida, which represented Martin Gill in his effort to adopt two foster children, said his group fears that those trends could dramatically reverse if administration policies diminish the pool of prospective adoptive parents.
He said he expects either the Scott administration or conservatives in the Legislature to attempt to pass legislation preventing gays from adopting children.
``This is not over, and what we now have to do is roll up our sleeves and defend the ruling of the courts,'' he said. ``We are preparing now for an assault, either in the Legislature or on the ballot in 2012.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com