When Gov. Charlie Crist crosses the state today to proclaim "Explore Adoption Day," lawyers for his administration will be preparing to go to court to defend a 1977 law that bans gay adoption.
Crist will tout a second, record-breaking year with more than 3,700 adoptions, up from 3,674, and cite the Department of Children and Families' ability to reduce the number of children in foster care by 10,000.
But civil-rights advocates argue that Crist could brag about even more impressive numbers if Florida wasn't the only state in the nation with an outright ban.
"Why, when the child-welfare experts at the Department of Children and Families say the ban gets in the way of doing their job, and when all of the science says it hurts children, can he in good conscience support the ban?" said ACLU of Florida attorney Robert Rosenwald.
The question is delicate for Crist, who is running next year for the U.S. Senate, and also for Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who is kicking off his campaign for attorney general and who heads Crist's Office of Adoption. They did not respond to a request for comment.
Last November, a Dade circuit judge ruled in favor of a gay foster parent who went to court to adopt the two abused foster children he and his partner have been raising since 2004. The 3rd District Court of Appeal is set to hear the state's challenge on Aug. 25.
Florida law does not ban gays from being foster parents, and the Department of Children and Families recruits foster parents at gay oriented social events.
The Department of Children and Families cited the ban when it denied the adoption. DCF Secretary George Sheldon, a former legislator, was one of only 15 House members to vote against it in May 1977.
Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman, noting that caseworkers deemed the couple model parents, ruled that the gay adoption ban violated the children's rights to equal protection as well as, "a child's right to permanency," under the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.
"I don't think it's possible for anyone to find a bona-fide expert," to support the ban, said Sen. Nan Rich, a Democrat from Weston who has tried unsuccessfully for the past seven years to repeal it.
"We could have had even greater success finding lots of loving homes for abused and neglected children," Rich said. "It's unconscionable, it's unjust and it's unconstitutional. My biggest fear is that it will be decided by the courts and the Legislature will get involved again."