A Queer Law

Florida's ban on gay adoption is not only unjust; it's downright homophobic

Teagan recalls Emmanuel calling her from Houton's home. "My husband and I had arranged to spend the day with each other," she says. "I take the kids one day, and Doug takes them another day, so we have that kind of private time. Emmanuel was throwing a fit, telling me that he wanted to come home, and I almost caved. But Doug told me to just allow him to get over it, and he did. The rest of the day was fine."

Mostly unaware of how the ban on gay adoption came to be, Teagan continues, "Telling someone like Doug that he can't parent Oscar is so offensive to me. He's already a parent. He's more than earned the right to be that wonderful boy's father in full. And it upsets me very much that I live in a state that refuses to see that."

Colby Katz
Reading is part of the daily ritual for foster father and son
Reading is part of the daily ritual for foster father and son

Both Houton and the Teagans were living elsewhere on the East Coast more than a quarter century ago when a former beauty queen arrived in Florida, took up residence in Miami, and began preaching that gays were going to hell.

Today, Anita Bryant appears on her Website as a small-time Branson, Missouri, performer decked out in bedazzled denim and pancake makeup. She performs every week in the wannabe Vegas map speck, belting tunes that only your grandparents remember. But in the late 1970s, Bryant was a force. Using the fame she acquired by entertaining the World War II troops and as the pitchwoman for Florida orange juice, Bryant made use of her fundamentalist Baptist upbringing by persuading the state's conservative masses to form Save the Children. The now-defunct organization was the beginning of the religious right.

Bryant delivered her message across the state. "What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that there is an acceptable alternate way of life," she said. "I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before."

Holding rallies and mobilizing the faithful, Bryant convinced many that homosexuals wanted not simply to adopt children but to recruit them to their sinful lifestyle. Bryant is credited with creating the momentum that caused the Dade County Commission to overturn an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexuality. It snowed for the first time in Miami the night the ordinance was passed in 1977, an eerie sign to her followers that evil was about.

And the issue continues to be controversial today. Although the Miami-Dade Commission in 1998 passed an antidiscrimination measure, voters will be asked September 10 whether they want to repeal it. Commissioners agreed, although reluctantly, to include the issue on the ballot out of necessity. This past December, a group called Take Back Miami-Dade secured enough signatures (51,026) to request the repeal of the amendment to the county's Human Rights Ordinance.

As for Bryant, her glory days seem long gone. Reporters have tried to contact her, as New Times did, but she's kept mum about what she thinks of her former state's ban and the ACLU lawsuit. Her Website doesn't mention anything about her antigay crusades. It celebrates the past, focusing primarily on the entertainment she provided for World War II soldiers.

And some of the legislators who originally passed the ban have changed their minds about it. Eight current and former lawmakers, mostly Democrats, released a formal statement this month saying they were wrong. Former legislator Elaine Bloom, who voted for the ban long ago, made it to the Miami Beach mayoral runoff this past November at least partly by courting the gay vote. She told reporters two weeks ago that the ban was "fueled by ignorance."

That's a long way from the rationale of the 1977 bill's sponsor. "We're really tired of you," the late state Sen. Curtis Petersen told Florida's gays. "We wish you'd go back into the closet."

Regardless of how past lawmakers feel about the statute, it's the current legislature that could make a difference. But with no openly gay legislators in office and Democrats in the minority, the drama surrounding the issue could shift to Florida's gubernatorial race. Former U.S. attorney general and Democratic ticket hopeful Janet Reno has been wooing the gay vote since announcing last November that she wanted to take the Tallahassee throne from Jeb Bush. On March 2, she announced that she supports revoking the ban during a visit to St. Petersburg's Suncoast Resort, which advertises itself as the "world's largest all-gay resort and entertainment complex." Another Democratic candidate, Tampa attorney Bill McBride, would also like the law dissolved. Governor Bush has stated that he remains in favor of it.

"Obviously, it's much harder for us to change the law if Bush is sitting as governor," says ACLU attorney Schwartz, who is openly lesbian. "And I don't think a lot of Floridians, from my experience, even know a gay person, so we seem like all leather daddies and drag queens. I'll continue to have dozens of clients worthy of becoming parents choose to either leave the state or try other methods to get around the law."

Schwartz says she knows that many gays and lesbians don't disclose their sexual preference or present themselves as straight when adopting. Some get attorneys to falsify papers, while others turn to artificial insemination rather than face the dilemma.

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