Florida removes gay adoption ban, bill giving agencies a right to discriminate dies

By : Jeremy Williams
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Tallahassee – The Florida Legislature has moved two gay adoption bills through the 2015 session—one pro-LGBT, the other anti-LGBT—and both are racing to get to the governor’s desk and become law before the session ends.

On April 14, the Florida Senate passed the first of these bills, the Adoption and Foster Care bill (CS/HB 7013), by a vote of 27-11. The bill strikes outdated statutory language that bans gay people from adopting in the state of Florida.

The ban has been obsolete and unenforced since 2010, when it was ruled unconstitutional. The move to scrub the gay adoption ban language is part of a larger adoption bill that provides adoption benefits to state employees and incentive payments to community-based care groups.

Of the 20 pages of bill language, just a single line applies to deleting the ban on adoption by gays.

Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon) focused his debate on this single line of language, saying the removal of the language “ought to stand alone.”

“We have hijacked a piece of legislature that was supposed to be a feel good moment,” said Lee. “We are dividing folks with this legislation.”

Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Destin), the bill’s sponsor, said he understood the “hijacked” feel of the bill but said that not passing this bill because of “a phrase which is now meaningless in law” doesn’t help the children.

“I’m a person of faith,” Gaetz said. “I’m a Lutheran and I asked my church ‘What’s your attitude on this?’ and I was told ‘Lutherans follow the law; we will follow the law.’”

The Senate currently faces another bill involving same-sex adoption. The anti-gay Conscience Protection bill (CS/HB 7111) was proposed, and passed, in the Florida House on April 9 as a reaction to the House’s prior approval of HB 7013, the pro-gay adoption bill.

HB 7111 gives child-placement agencies the right to deny adoptions for a couple or individual if it violates that agency’s religious or moral convictions.

David Richardson (D-Miami-Dade) spoke from the House floor comparing the vote on HB 7111 to civil rights issues that faced the nation more than 50 years ago.

“If you are open to the public, then you are open to the public,” Richardson said. “If the lunch counter is open, it is open to everyone.”

Richardson contended that HB 7111 was proposed as a direct response to the passage of the Adoption and Foster Care bill. His claims appeared validated by Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) and Rep. Larry Ahern (R-Seminole), who both said they regretted supporting the removal of the gay adoption ban and saw this bill as their way to make good with their religious conflict.

“I care deeply that we show fairness and equality to everyone, but as people of faith we should care deeply about our convictions,” Baxley said.

Michelle Richardson, ACLU Director of Florida Public Policy, responded quickly after the Florida House voted to pass the anti-gay Conscience Protection bill.

“Like the Indiana law that caused such a backlash, this bill would authorize State sanctioned discrimination, but here, children would be the ones who bear the brunt of discrimination and taxpayers would foot the bill,” Richardson said in a statement.

The Adoption and Foster Care bill, having pased both the House and Senate, will now move on to Gov. Rick Scott for signing, while the Conscience Protection bill remains in the State Senate, confusing and upsetting some Senators.

“We should be voting on the [Conscience Protection bill] first,” said Lee. “It’s a bit of putting the cart before the horse.”

The committee chair, Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs), along with the 13 member committee, heard more than two hours of testimony. The committee went to the end of the session without a vote and postponed the rest of the hearing.

With the Conscience Protection bill “temporarily postponed” and less than two weeks left in the 2015 session, it is likely that the law against gay adoption will be struck down and there will be no conscience clause added to it.

“With the clock running out, it is very likely the end of the line for this bad bill,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of LGBT-rights group Equality Florida. “The bottom line is the bill is unconstitutional. It would have allowed state-funded discrimination and in doing so threatened hundreds of millions of federal dollars for foster care and adoption. It was written in way to allow a broad range of discrimination at taxpayer expense.”

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