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    Lawmaker's office a bully pulpit for opposition to gay adoptions

    By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 29, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Florida state Rep. Randy Ball sent out a letter on his House stationery Thursday that featured a religious diatribe against homosexuals -- part of his increasingly public defense of a state law that prevents gay people from adopting children.

    A Brevard County Republican, Ball condemned gay adoption this month on the Fox network show The O'Reilly Factor and on ABC's Primetime, where talk show host Rosie O'Donnell talked about her life as a gay parent.

    Ball's letter, sent to Florida newspapers, said a "transcendent God" oversees the world and "condemns homosexuality as an abomination."

    "Yes," the legislator wrote, "homosexuals lead very unstable lives as a rule."

    On March 15, Ball also sent out a series of e-mails on his state computer, invoking Jesus Christ and condemning the idea of gay adoption as "dangerous."

    There's no rule preventing state lawmakers from using their official stationery or computers to spread religious messages, but most don't do it, to avoid offending people of other faiths.

    Ball defended using House stationery and computers to spread his religious message.

    "It's a policy issue," Ball said in an interview. "It's a policy issue of whether we do or do not have a ban on gay adoptions, and my rationale is religiously based. Engagement in politics does not require me to be a hypocrite and leave my religious values at home."

    Ball said he sent his letter to the press Thursday in order to get his message out for Easter.

    "There's so much interest in this," Ball said. "This is a theological matter. This gives me a chance to get the truth out, uncut. This country runs and operates on the Judeo-Christian ethic that comes from the Bible."

    Florida's ban on gay adoptions, the only one like it in the nation, was passed by the Legislature in 1977. Anti-gay crusader Anita Bryant was its most famous supporter. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit.

    Despite O'Donnell's national crusade on the issue, few sitting legislators have been vocal about it. Primetime host Diane Sawyer told viewers ABC called 24 Florida lawmakers for comment, and only one would talk: Ball.

    "When you see some of what he's saying, it's surprising to see this go out on state letterhead," said Eric Ferrero, who is organizing opposition to Florida's law for the ACLU. "He gets to believe whatever he wants and we would fight for his right to his beliefs. We just don't think you get to base state law on your disdain for gay people."

    Since that show earlier this month, Ball has appeared on other television and radio shows. On The O'Reilly Factor on March 15, Ball said he was speaking "for most of Florida's legislators" when he said it would be a "safer decision" to leave a child in foster care than to let him be adopted by a gay couple.

    "I'm stunned," host Bill O'Reilly responded. "I can't believe, again, that you'd say "Keep them in foster care and deny them a stable home run by gays.' It just seems cruel to me to do that. . . . What you're doing, Mr. Ball, is you're tarring a whole group because you don't like their conduct. That's wrong."

    Ball said Thursday that O'Reilly was off-base.

    "He suggests that we could put kids in a -- quote -- stable homosexual home. The flaw in his argument is that it's extremely difficult to find a stable homosexual home."

    Ball, a former Marine and former sheriff's detective, graduated from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, a Virginia school founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.

    Because of the state's term limits law, Ball will leave office this fall. He said he plans to run again when a new Senate seat or congressional district opens up.

    Activists fighting Florida's law say they plan to bring the issue up at the Legislature next spring.

    -- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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