Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday evening signed intot law a bill that aims to increase adoptions but became embroiled in the debate over gay rights after a provision was added to allow adoptions by gay parents.
The new law will create incentives for state workers to adopt children, and it rewards Community-Based Care agencies in the state for achieving performance goals in adoption and foster care.
But it also repeals from statute a ban on gay people adopting children.
That change is largely symbolic. The ban hasn't been enforced since 2010, when the Third District Court of Appeal ruled it unconstiutional.
Still, it became an early flashpiont in the legislative session as conservative members of the House tried to add a "conscience clause" that would allow adoption agencies connected with religious groups to reject gay parents.
Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, carried the bill and said that in other states, reigious organizations have faced a difficult choice: Serve gay parents despite their religious convictions, or shut down altogether.
"We've seen that in other states, these agencies are being shut down," Brodeur said, debating on the floor of the House in April. "I don't believe that the state should be able to discriminate against these organizations based on their religious beliefs."
Some in the Legislature -- largely Democrats -- said that change would amount to discrimination.
In a letter accompanying the bill signed by Scott, the governor wrote that "signing this bill codifies the state’s current practice into law and does not harm those fundamental rights." However, he said, there is merit to a religious protection, as well.
"It is my hope and expectation that the Legislature will take future action to make clear that we will support private, faith-based operators in the child welfare system and ensure that their religious convictions continue to be protected," he wrote. "Florida’s laws must protect the free exercise of religious liberty and faith while protecting Floridians from illegal discrimination."