While we continue to fight in Tallahassee to change Florida's notorious adoption law, our legal partners at the ACLU and NCLR are pursuing two promising cases in the Florida courts. However, we need to be careful not to put all of our hopes in a legal solution. First, getting to and winning before the Florida Supreme Court is a very tall order. An d second, even a victory in Florida's Supreme Court could lead to a final decision by the legislature (if, for example, the Supreme Court doesn't strike down the adoption ban but instead directs the legislature to "fix the law" - a very likely possibility). The bottom line is we must continue to educate politicians and the public about the terrible harm Florida's adoption ban inflicts on children and their families every day.
Will Florida recognize gay adoptions from other states?
By Sarah Lundy
Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer
June 22, 2009
Lara Embry and Kimberly Ryan were a committed couple, and they wanted a family.
While living together in Washington state, each woman gave birth to a child, and each legally adopted the other's baby. They became a happy legal family of four: two moms and two daughters.
Fast-forward several years. The couple have moved to Sarasota and no longer are a couple. Embry and Ryan separated in 2004, and now they're in the midst of a bitter custody battle that has pitted conservatives who don't approve of gay adoption against gay-advocate groups fighting for family rights.
Embry wants the right to see her adoptive daughter — a visit Ryan forbids.
The issue is whether Florida, the only state with a blanket ban on gay adoption, must recognize another state's adoption laws, even if those laws, such as Washington's, permit gay adoptions.
Last month, Florida's Second District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court's decision, giving Embry the same rights as any adoptive parent.
"Ms. Embry's same-sex relationship with Ms. Ryan is irrelevant for the purpose of enforcing her rights and obligations as an adoptive parent," one of the judges wrote in the opinion.
About half the states allow some type of adoption by same-sex couples, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
The center's legal director and Embry's attorney, Shannon Minter, said cases like his client's are emerging across the country.
"Today people are so mobile, and it's so common for families to move from one state to another," he said. "We wanted to make sure they are not stripped of their parental status just by moving across the Florida state line."
Soon, Embry hopes to be able to visit with her adopted daughter, whom she hasn't seen in at least two years.
Neither Embry nor Ryan responded to various requests for an interview. They have not granted any media interviews since their case began garnering attention this year.
Heart of the issue
When the couple first separated, they shared custody of their daughters, both 9.
By 2007, Ryan — who is now engaged to be married to a man — refused to allow Embry to see her biological daughter, whom Embry had adopted.
That's when Embry began her legal fight for visitation. Ryan won at the trial level when she moved to dismiss Embry's legal petition, arguing that Florida was not required to give "full faith and credit" to the Washington adoption. It's contrary to Florida's 1977 law, prohibiting same-sex couple adoption.
On May 13, the appeals ruled, reversing the trial court's decision.
The Liberty Counsel, a Maitland-based conservative advocacy organization that is representing Ryan, vows to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
"It's direct conflict with its own laws," said Ryan's attorney and Liberty Counsel founder Mathew Staver. "My concern is it would create a back-door way around Florida's law. ... That's not good for Florida's children."
University of Florida law professor Sharon Rush said they are two separate issues.
"The fact that Florida has to acknowledge the adoption doesn't mean people have to interpret that as Florida approves it," Rush said. "It is just a sign that another part of the country has moved in that direction."
Some argue the recent court decision is in the best interest of the children.
"When you legally adopt someone, you are legally the parent," said Chris Edelson, legal counsel with the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.
Edelson said Embry was not trying to take Ryan's child away from her but was asserting her rights to custody and visitation granted all couples who adopt in Washington, Edelson said.
"She [Embry] is the legal parent; they are both the parents. She has parental rights," he said.
The legal fight
While Embry and Ryan battle it out in Sarasota, another legal fight brews in Miami.
Last year, Frank Gill, a gay man in North Miami, won the legal right to adopt two foster children whom he has raised since 2004. The Department of Children and Families has appealed the trial court's decision to the Third District Court of Appeal.
Arguments are expected later this summer. Some anticipate it may end up before the Florida Supreme Court.
Gill's attorney, Robert Rosenwald, said he doesn't think the Embry/Ryan case will have a direct legal impact on the Miami case, one that is a direct constitutional challenge to the state's ban on adoption by gay people.
He is, however, encouraged by the appeals-court decision.
"It's good news for gay and lesbian parents in Florida that a legal commitment made to children (in another state) is recognized as valid," said Rosenwald, who is also director of the LGBT Advocacy Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
"It shows a shift in both public opinions as to gay families, and it shows a willingness in the court to treat gay families with dignity and respect," he said.
Jeff Kunerth of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Sarah Lundy can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-6218.
Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel