Gay rights a matter of equal rights

OUR OPINION: Congress, Legislature should heed judges' rulings

09/16/2010 1:00 AM

09/16/2010 7:54 AM

Ever so slowly, gay rights are being endorsed by the courts. In South Florida, three circuit court judges have ruled that the state's ban on gay adoptions is unconstitutional. The state, wrongheadedly, is appealing two of the rulings in the Third District Court of Appeal.

And last week in California, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips declared the U.S. military's ban on openly gay service members unconstitutional, saying the ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy violates the First Amendment and due-process rights of lesbians and gay men.

In both instances, national public opinion has shifted to support gay rights, according to Gallup and other polls. The courts are following suit. Why aren't lawmakers?

Repealing the military ban is supported by President Obama, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Colin Powell, the former chairman, among many others. The U.S. House has passed a bill repealing the ban, and now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promises to bring the repeal to a floor vote next week. It still faces stiff opposition from Senate Republicans.

Repeal not likely

Chances of the Florida Legislature repealing the ban on gay adoptions are less likely in the short term. Florida is the only state with an outright ban on gay adoptions, even though it allows gays and lesbians to serve as foster parents.

The idea that gay men and women can be foster parents for Florida's neediest children -- often for years -- but not become their legal parents is based on such contradictory logic that, once challenged directly, it was bound to strike judges as unsupportable.

Flawed reasoning

The latest victims of this flawed reasoning are Vanessa Alenier and her partner Melanie Leon. Days after the son of a relative of Ms. Alenier's was born in 2009 she took custody from the Department of Children & Families. Eventually, she and Ms. Leon sought to adopt him. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia approved the adoption in January.

That followed Monroe Circuit Judge David J. Audlin's 2008 ruling allowing Wayne LaRue Smith to adopt his foster son in Key West and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman's granting Frank Martin Gill's request to adopt two half-brothers in North Miami the same year.

Just how convoluted is the state's reasoning on the gay adoption ban? The DCF is challenging the Sampedro-Iglesia and Lederman rulings. It didn't appeal the Key West adoption because Mr. LaRue Smith was already the child's legal guardian. Nevertheless, he's still gay. Talk about splitting hairs.

But the DCF did retaliate by denying Mr. LaRue Smith's son subsidies awarded to all adopted children in Florida. Eventually, the DCF reversed course, and now the boy is entitled to health insurance and other benefits.

Florida's ban on gay adoptions is more than discriminatory. It's also inhumane. Hundreds of Florida children are in foster care hoping to be adopted. Good people are eager to become parents -- but denied that right simply because they are gay.

There are even economic incentives for the Legislature to lift the ban, too: It would save the state money in both the foster-care and court systems.

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