Robert Lamarche spends his days at the Alliance for Children, a private adoption agency, deciding which prospective parents are fit to raise children in Florida.
Yet if his own application were to show up on his desk, he would have to deny it.
Though Lamarche would seem to be an ideal candidate to adopt -- he's got a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in social work and he once supervised therapeutic foster homes -- Florida law specifically disqualifies him because he is gay.
``I couldn't approve myself,'' Lamarche said.
But as the 1977 law that forbids gay men and lesbians from adopting remains under review by a Miami appeals court, Lamarche became the fourth Floridian who is gay to publicly emerge as an adoptive parent. He is the first gay Floridian from north of Miami-Dade to publicly disclose an adoption.
Last month, in a juvenile courtroom in Broward County, Judge Hope T. Bristol approved Lamarche's adoption of a teenaged boy Lamarche has fostered for about two years. The adoption, she wrote, ``is in the minor's best interest.'' The law, Bristol wrote, is unconstitutional. The state is not objecting to the adoption.
Florida law allows gay and lesbian people to foster children but does not permit them to adopt.
Lamarche, who lives in Palm Beach County but works in Fort Lauderdale, met the little boy whom he calls his son in 2006. The boy was about 11 years old and had moved around from home to home as the result of abuse and neglect. The boy, now 15, is not being named by The Miami Herald to protect his privacy.
With a master's in social work from Salem State University in Massachusetts and having worked in child welfare for a number of years, Lamarche had seen countless children who had been abused, neglected and left without homes. But there was something about this little boy that made Lamarche want to take care of him himself.
``I was so drawn to him in large part because I felt bad,'' Lamarche said. ``I just remember this really scared little guy.''
According to court records, Lamarche met the boy at an emergency shelter after the boy was taken into state care by the Department of Children & Families. Though the boy was sent to live with other foster parents, Lamarche kept an eye on him and was given permission to serve as a formal mentor, or ``big brother,'' Lamarche said.
A couple of months later, the child met Lamarche's partner, Donald Giustiniani, and the three of them started spending more and more time together. It became harder and harder for Lamarche to say goodbye, he said.
``It became really difficult for us -- at the end of our days together -- to bring our son back to his foster home,'' Lamarche said.
Knowing that it might not be possible, Lamarche asked the little boy whether he would want to be adopted by him -- and explained to him that his household was going to be a little different from the other kids'.
``We'd love for you to be our boy,'' Lamarche said, adding: ``We're a two-dad family.''
Lamarche said the boy didn't even think twice and before accepting the invitation.
``I'm Pop -- my partner is Dad,'' Lamarche said.
On May 5, 2008, the boy's birth mother's parental rights were terminated, freeing the boy for adoption. His father is deceased.
Robert Lynn, a Broward attorney who served as a volunteer guardian for the boy, testified at an adoption hearing that the teen had fared poorly in two previous foster homes but has thrived with Lamarche and his partner.
``The home was always well kept. He said it was a pleasure to visit there,'' court records quote Lynn as saying. ``The home was safe and secure. [Lamarche] was a licensed foster parent. The child was very happy in the home. [Lamarche] and the child had developed a very good bond. . . . He knew [Lamarche] was gay and he approved of the placement.''
The adoption order quotes the boy's grandfather as stating the boy ``is a wonderful kid and deserves to know that he won't be shuffled around or medicated if he has a bad day -- and that [Lamarche's] mother is going to be his grandmother forever.''