Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announced Friday that he won’t appeal a court ruling last month overturning Florida’s law banning gay people from adopting children, putting a “final end” to the 33-year old prohibition, according to gay rights attorneys.
The decision by a state appellate court striking down the adoption ban law arose from an emotional case in which Martin Gill, a gay man, sought to adopt two children that he and his domestic partner have been raising for almost six years as foster parents.
“This law, by baselessly branding gay people unfit parents, was one of the most notoriously anti-gay laws in the country, and we are delighted that it has been ended once and for all,” said Leslie Cooper, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project.
Cooper argued the case on behalf of the ACLU before Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals, which handed down the decision overturning the law in September.
“This victory means that the thousands of children in Florida who are waiting to be adopted will no longer be needlessly deprived of willing and able parents who can give them the love and support of a family,” Cooper said in a statement.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running in a hotly contested race for the U.S. Senate as an independent, and the Florida Department of Children and Families, announced shortly after the appellate court ruling that they would not appeal the decision.
Crist changed his party affiliation from Republican to independent earlier this year after conservative Republican Marco Rubio defeated him in the Republican primary. Rubio’s position on the decision not to appeal the adoption ban decision could not be immediately determined.
The action by the appellate court upholds a November 2008 decision by a Miami-Date County Circuit Court judge, who ruled that the law barring adoption by gay people is unconstitutional. Judge Cindy Lederman granted Gill’s petition to adopt his two foster sons, who are now six and ten years old.
The decision followed a four-day trial in which experts testifying on Gill’s behalf cited research showing that no difference can be found in the wellbeing of children raised by either gay or straight parents.
In its ruling last month, the Third District Court of Appeals agreed with that view, stating, “The issue is so far beyond dispute that it would be irrational to hold otherwise; the best interests of children are not preserved by prohibiting homosexual adoption.”
In his statement announcing he would not appeal the case, McCollum suggested the final outcome on the issue may not have been reached.
“The constitutionality of the Florida law banning adoption by homosexuals is a divisive matter of great public interest,” he said. “As such, the final determination should rest with the Florida Supreme Court, not a lower appellate court. But after reviewing the merits of independently seeking Supreme Court review, following the decision of our client the Department of Children and Families not to appeal the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal, it is clear that this is not the right case to take to the Supreme Court for determination,” he said.
But he added, “No doubt someday a more suitable case will give the Supreme Court the opportunity to uphold the constitutionality of this law.”
ACLU staff attorney Shelbi Day, who also represented Gill in the case, said it would be highly unlikely that another case would arise to change the ruling of the appellate court, which is binding on all lower courts throughout the state and effectively kills the adoption ban law.
Gill said through a statement that he and his partner are relieved that their long ordeal to secure the adoption of two children they have cared for more than six years has finally come to a close.
“Our boys have overcome difficult beginnings to become happy, healthy kids,” he said. “All children deserve a chance at finding a stable, loving and permanent home. Over the 33 years of the ban, this archaic law has harmed countless foster children by denying them a forever family.”