WASHINGTON (ABP) — A federal appeals court has upheld the nation's only state law banning gay and lesbian people from adopting children.
In a Jan. 28 ruling, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a Florida law barring homosexuals from adopting did not violate the Constitution's equal protection and right-to-privacy provisions. The three-judge panel was unanimous in its ruling.
The ruling is a setback amid several recent legal victories for the gay-rights movement. It comes despite last year's Supreme Court decision that overturned state laws banning gay sex acts on right-to-privacy grounds.
The court ruled that the state was within its bounds to limit adoption based on what it termed “sexual preference,” just as it was within its bounds to limit adoption to parents based on other factors, such as income and moral fitness.
Judge Stanley Birch, writing the court's opinion, said the state's paramount concern in the adoption process was serving the best interests of the child rather than upholding the adoptive rights of potential parents. “[T]he state's overriding interest is not providing individuals the opportunity to become parents, but rather identifying those individuals whom it deems most capable of parenting adoptive children and providing them with a secure family environment,” Birch wrote.
Birch also noted that, under the state's other laws, adoption is a privilege rather than a right. “Unlike biological parentage, which precedes and transcends formal recognition by the state, adoption is wholly a creature of the state,” he wrote.
The Florida anti-gay-adoption law is the only one of its kind in the country. It stems from 1977 and was enacted in the wake of Christian singer Anita Bryant's highly publicized campaign against a gay-rights ordinance in Miami.
The judges ruled that they could find no constitutional reason why Florida legislators could not enact such a ban, since their justification was protecting the well-being of adopted children.
The case began in 1999, when four gay men who served as foster parents or legal guardians filed suit against the state with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. One of the men, Steven Lofton, is a pediatric nurse who has raised from infancy three children who were born HIV-positive. At the time, he lived in Miami Beach.
Lofton was denied the right to adopt one of the children after he refused to answer a question about his sexual orientation on the state's adoption application. He has since moved to Oregon with his partner and the child.
Gay-rights supporters expressed disappointment at the decision. “We think the court is wrong in thinking that the Constitution lets the government assume that sexual orientation has anything to do with good parenting,” said Matt Coles, director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, in a Jan. 29 press release. “We are distressed that the court's decision will leave thousands of children without the homes and the parents they deserve.”
But Florida Gov. Jeb Bush issued a statement hailing the ruling. “The decision validates Florida's conclusion that it is in the best interest of adopted children, many of whom come from troubled and unstable backgrounds, to be placed in a home anchored both by a father and a mother,” Bush said. The case is Lofton vs. Secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services.