Queer Adoption

Florida's ban on gays as adoptive foster parents is medieval

Bryant delivered her message across Florida: "What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that there is an acceptable alternate way of life," she said. "I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before."

Holding rallies and mobilizing the faithful, Bryant convinced many that homosexuals wanted not simply to adopt children but to recruit them to their sinful lifestyle.

Bryant is also credited with creating the momentum that overturned the Dade County Commission ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexuality. It snowed for the first time in Miami the night the ordinance was passed in January 1977, an eerie sign to her followers that evil was about. That June voters rejected the ordinance in a referendum. Gay activists spent the next 21 years working toward reinstatement of legal protection against discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and financing.

Colby Katz
Reading is part of the daily ritual for foster father and son
Colby Katz
Reading is part of the daily ritual for foster father and son

And the issue continues to be controversial today. Although the Miami-Dade Commission in 1998 passed an antidiscrimination amendment to the county's Human Rights Ordinance, voters will be asked September 10 whether they want to repeal it. Commissioners agreed, although reluctantly, to include the issue on the ballot out of necessity. This past December a group called Take Back Miami-Dade secured enough signatures (51,026) to request its repeal.

Some of the legislators who originally passed the gay-adoption ban in 1977 have changed their minds about it. Eight current and former lawmakers, mostly Democrats, released a formal statement this month saying they were wrong. Former legislator Elaine Bloom, who voted for the ban long ago, made it to the Miami Beach mayoral runoff this past November at least partly by courting the gay vote. She told reporters weeks ago that the ban was "fueled by ignorance."

Regardless of how past lawmakers feel about the statute, it's the current legislature that could make a difference. But with no openly gay legislators in office and Democrats in the minority, the drama surrounding the issue could shift to Florida's gubernatorial race. Former U.S. Attorney General and Democratic ticket hopeful Janet Reno has been wooing the gay vote since announcing last November that she wanted to take the Tallahassee throne from Jeb Bush. On March 2, she said she supports revoking the ban during a visit to St. Petersburg's Suncoast Resort, which advertises itself as the "world's largest all-gay resort and entertainment complex." Another Democratic candidate, Tampa attorney Bill McBride, would also like the law dissolved. Governor Bush has stated that he remains in favor of it.

"Obviously, it's much harder for us to change the law if Bush is sitting as governor," says ACLU attorney Schwartz, who is openly lesbian. "And I don't think a lot of Floridians, from my experience, even know a gay person, so we seem like all leather daddies and drag queens. I'll continue to have dozens of clients worthy of becoming parents choose to either leave the state, or try other methods to get around the law."

Schwartz says she knows that many gays and lesbians don't disclose their sexual preference or present themselves as straight when adopting. Some get attorneys to falsify papers, while others turn to artificial insemination rather than face the dilemma.

"It's an absolute shame that things come to that," she says. "But what we're doing is denying a group of people their fundamental right to have a family."

It's raining and dark outside the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Miami. But inside, the place is cooking. The score is tied, and it's halfway through the third quarter when one father's voice from the back bleachers is heard above all the other parents:

"Oscar, steal it! That's right, yes! Take it away and to the hoop, yes, yes, yes.... Arghhhhh!"

Still in his scrubs from work, Doug Houton is sitting on bleachers watching Oscar speed down the basketball court. Oscar looks up at Houton a lot, no doubt for reassurance that he will end his first season of pee-wee ball victoriously.

"Did you see that?" Doug groans as Oscar misses narrowly. "It was so close," Houton says. "He's having an off night. I mean, he gets nervous when people are watching him."

Avila nods and pulls his baseball cap down slightly, intently watching the pair of knobby, ten-year-old legs topped off by a black, number-eight jersey scurry down the hard wood. Oscar looks up again at both of them and smiles widely.

The score is excruciatingly close. Parents are holding their breaths as Oscar, with three seconds on the clock, heaves the ball from around the free-throw line. The collective moan from the bleachers resonates throughout the gym as the ball taps the rim. It's 29 to 27 at the final buzzer. Oscar bows his head and digs his Nikes into the floor. His team lost. But in less than ten seconds, he and his buddies are making funny faces and slouching toward the post-game handshake line.

Houton turns to Avila to debate whether to order pizza tonight. Like the other parents, they watch the coaches line the kids up for more drills. Houton grows impatient, huffing that it's already 8:30, and Oscar still has homework to do. The two also have to walk the family dog, a nightly ritual. But the children are getting a post-game speech from their coach, who seems to be bucking up their spirits. "He'll be fine," Houton says, reassuring himself aloud about his son's first experience with losing.

He's right. There seems enough determination between them to defeat any of their challengers. Unfortunately, federal courts and shortsighted legislators play tough defense.

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