Gay adoption push renewed

Published March 15, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Florida's three-decades-old ban on allowing gays to adopt children is under attack once again.

But the ban has powerful allies, including Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Ronda Storms of Brandon, who ran for office on a pledge to prevent gays from being foster parents.

Florida is one of three states, with Mississippi and Utah, that prohibits gays from adopting.

Some state lawmakers, backed by human rights and gay rights groups, want to allow gay foster parents to adopt children if a judge rules it's in the child's best interest or if a gay adult were the legal guardian of a child whose biological parents had died.

"We're coming back this year," said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, a sponsor of the bill. "Every child needs and deserves a permanent, loving home."

Rich said 3,900 foster children are languishing in the system, burdening taxpayers as they await placement in permanent homes.

Three dozen groups formed the Coalition for Fair Adoption to push for a removal of the ban. They include the National Council of Jewish Women, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Equality Florida, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Pasco Pride.

Cathy James of Tampa said she has long cared for the 7-year-old biological son of her partner. "I have no legal standing in my child's life," James said.

Rich's bill to repeal the ban has been assigned to a committee headed by Storms, who shows no interest in holding a hearing on the issue. As a Hillsborough County commissioner, Storms led an effort to stop official recognition of gay pride events.

"We're just weighing all the bills. There's lots of bills," Storms said Wednesday after her Children, Families & Elder Affairs Committee took up seven other bills and adjourned 90 minutes ahead of schedule.

The chairman of a committee usually decides which bills to schedule for a vote. A bill can die if it's not heard.

Crist's opposition to allowing gays to adopt children was an issue in the race for governor last fall. Crist supported the ban, though he favored civil unions between gay couples and called himself a "live-and-let-live" person.

'"My view is always that the traditional family is best for the child," Crist said Wednesday.

Crist's opponent, Democrat Jim Davis, said a judge should make the decision, regardless of the parents' sexual orientation.

The Legislature imposed the gay adoption ban in 1977, a time when singer Anita Bryant led a movement to repeal a Miami-Dade law that banned discrimination against gays.

Times staff writer Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler and Times researcher Mary Mellstrom contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.