The Florida Senate Rules Committee on Monday didn’t vote to move forward with a proposal allowing private agencies to deny adoptions by gay and lesbian couples on religious or moral grounds.
The bill was temporarily postponed and may be brought up again by the same committee, said state Rep. David Richardson, Florida’s first openly gay lawmaker.
“However, this committee does not have any more meetings scheduled this Legislative session. It would have to be a special order of the Senate president to convene the committee and continue hearing the bill,” said Richardson, D-Miami Beach.
State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Tuesday the he does not support the bill.
“It has many many problems,” Gaetz told the Miami Herald. “It has constitutional problems, practical problems, and I would not support it. I’m not a lawyer. I’m relying on the general counsel’s opinion. I would not vote for House Bill 7111.”
Committee Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said Monday afternoon he would work with Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, to determine how to proceed.
“With the clock running out, it is very likely the end of the line for this bad bill,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of LGBT-rights group Equality Florida. “The bottom line is the bill is unconstitutional. It would have allowed state-funded discrimination and in doing so threatened hundreds of millions of federal dollars for foster care and adoption. It was written in way to allow a broad range of discrimination at taxpayer expense.”
Supporters argued Monday that religious protections are needed to counteract what they say is an attack on their freedom.
“We’re in a time and season where religious liberties are coming under attack,” said Pam Olsen, a Tallahassee pastor appointed by the governor to the Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council, told lawmakers.
Religious adoption agencies fear they could face a tough choice: work with gay, lesbian or transgender parents despite deeply held beliefs; or shutter their doors in fear of lawsuits.
“If we walk out of here without this bill,” said John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council, “I guarantee you that one of the groups in this room will file suit against one of the agencies in this room.”
Smith, Richardson and others fully expected the Senate committee to vote on the proposal by mid-afternoon.
“Apparently, Florida learned nothing from the recent outrage across the country concerning Indiana’s planned discrimination against the LGBT community,” Richardson wrote in a weekend message to LGBT activists nationally. “The Florida Legislature is now about to pass its own version of ‘Indiana-style’ discrimination, but even worse. House Bill 7111 will allow adoption agencies using government funds to discriminate against ANYONE based on their written religious or moral convictions or policies. The bill is aimed at reducing adoptions by gay parents.”
Richardson told the Miami Herald early Monday that he spent the entire weekend “trying to bring national attention to this issue. We’ve been working very hard to try to get this bill killed in committee.”
The law would be unconstitutional, “but the legislature is determined to continue regardless of the facts,” Richardson continued.
Shortly after, South Florida LGBT-rights group SAVE emailed supporters: “Nightmare: FL Senate to vote TODAY on Indiana-style discrimination!”
“The attack on orphans and LGBT families cannot go unanswered,” read the email, encouraging activists to contact state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, a member of the Senate rules committee.
On April 9, the state House passed a similar proposal. Chief sponsor Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, called it a religious “conscience” bill.
Critics immediately compared Brodeur’s proposal to a controversial religious freedom law passed the same time in Indiana.
Sen. Gaetz on April 8 said he supported repealing Florida’s 1977 gay adoption ban — unenforced since a court ruled it unconstitutional in 2010.
“I don’t think it would be right for this Senate to take the position that we believe, as some believed in 1977, that there was something wrong with a child having a chance to have a loving home even if the people in that loving home didn’t have the traditional family values that we have. I don’t think that’s right,” Gaetz said on the Senate floor. “It wasn’t too many years ago when interracial adoptions were illegal and frowned on and immoral. It was quite recently when a university in this country had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to get told that their policy that expelled students because they had interracial dating allowed, they didn’t want to allow interracial dating. ... It wasn’t too many years ago when that had to go to the Supreme Court because a faith-based university wanted to take it there.”
“We don’t need to turn the social clock in this state back to 1977,” he said.
For 33 years beginning in 1977, Florida banned gays and lesbians from adopting children. In 2010, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld a Miami-Dade Circuit Court decision declaring the law unconstitutional and Florida officials stopped enforcing it. In March, Richardson sought to have the law officially stricken from state statutes.
Michael Auslen of the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau contributed to this report.