The morning after the Gill decision was rendered by the 3rd District Court of Appeal, my cell phone rang incessantly. My oldest child asked, “Why is everyone calling you? What’s the big deal?” Just three of those many conversations illustrate “the big deal.”
• One of the ACLU lawyers who represented Mr. Gill described the impact of the court’s decision as the culmination of “decades” of legal work of hundreds of attorneys and advocates that will effect thousands of children by allowing them to have permanent homes with the families that have loved and raised them.
• A young reporter called to interview me about the decision. After I explained that before the decision, Florida was the only state that allows gays to foster but not adopt, the reporter said, “Wait a minute. What did you say? That doesn’t make any sense.”
• A gay friend who has hoped for many years to become a legal father to the child he has cared for since birth, simply and quietly wept with relief and joy.
Of course, the matter is likely headed to the Florida Supreme Court. However, the Department of Children and Families has already changed their policy to prohibit adoption case workers from asking about or considering a prospective adoptive parents’ sexual orientation.
The opinion did not find a fundamental right to adopt by gays and instead limited the decision to whether there is a rational basis for the ban against gay adoptions. To show a “rational basis” for the ban, the government must demonstrate a legitimate governmental objective. Finding no difference between gay and straight adoptive parents, the court found that no legitimate objective was served by the ban.
The court noted there are no automatic exclusions for any other class of people. In other words, there is no exclusion for child abusers, terrorists, substance abusers or criminals. Only gays.
Moreover, there is no prohibition against single people adopting. In fact, over 1/3 of all adoptions in Florida are by single men and women.
Referring to the extensive testimony taken at the trial court level, the court found that empirical data over two decades clearly showed no differences in the parenting of gays and heterosexual parents. The advocates for the children and Mr. Gill called ten expert witnesses while the state only called 2. The first state expert agreed that gays should be able to adopt but stated that their applications should be considered on a case by case basis. The state’s only other expert was Dr. Rekers (who, you may remember, paid a young man from an escort service to accompany him on a European vacation according to numerous news sources). In forming his opinion, Dr. Rekers relied on data by a colleague who had been censured and ousted by the American Psychological Association.
The court found no real difference and thus struck down the ban. We now must wait to see if the state appeals the decision. I remain hopeful and inspired by the first step. It is indeed a big deal.