Maneuvers in the legislature make it look like gay couples will soon officially be able to adopt children in Florida's foster care system, thanks to one measure being approved and a last-minute intervention by Former Senate President Don Gaetz in a separate measure. A gay adoption ban was found unconstitutional in 2010 — and gays have adopted children since — but this measure would make the lifting of the ban official.
On Wednesday, the Florida Senate tentatively approved a bill that would keep the ban on gay adoption from being reinstated, The gay adoption ban had been put in place in 1977 until 2010 when it was found to be unconstitutional by an appeals court.
The measure (SB 320/HB 7013) also creates incentives to adopt children who are under the state's care but also removes crucial language from state law that bans LGBT couples from adopting.
Specifically, the bill would reward state workers with a $5,000 incentive for adopting children who are under the state's care. A $10,000 incentive would be given to those who adopt special-needs children.
Sen. Kelli Stargel had proposed amendments to reinstate the gay adoption ban. Her concern was that faith-based adoption agencies would close shop in Florida if the ban were lifted. Those amendments, however, were voted down.
Meanwhile, a controversial Indiana-style bill (HB 7111) was moving rapidly through the House that would allow private agencies to turn down gay couples' application for adoption based solely on the agencies' religious beliefs. That bill offered up a so-called “conscience protection” via “religious or moral convictions.” The bill doesn't specifically mention same-sex couples, but the wording in it meant that agencies could turn down families based on martial status, political orientation, religion, and sexual orientation. HB 7111 has no companion bill in the Senate.
“This measure allows prejudice to replace the best interest of the child as the standard for deciding who can best provide a forever home for children in foster care,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, in a statement Wednesday. “This bill forces taxpayers to fund discrimination, and it sends a message about Florida as a place that is unwelcoming and discriminatory towards LGBT people. That’s what Indiana and Arkansas became, and that’s where Florida is heading if Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t force the legislature to tap the brakes or veto this bill outright.”
But late Wednesday afternoon, the Florida Senate blocked that bill from moving forward. The motion came minutes after the Florida House voted overwhelmingly for it.
The House Health & Human Services chairman, State Rep. Jason Brodeur, who sponsored the bill, had argued that gay couples who want to adopt can go to the Department of Children and Families or to a private agency. Much like Sen. Stargel, Brodeur argued that his bill would keep many faith-based adoption agencies and churches that organize adoptions from closing their doors. But Brodeur was also unwilling to deny that his bill would allow agencies to be able to discriminate based on race, religion, or other factors as well.
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Former Senate President Don Gaetz spoke up against Brodeur's bill on Wednesday.
“We don’t need to turn back the social clock in this state to 1977,” Gaetz said.
“We applaud Sen. Gaetz for rallying his colleagues to stop this disastrous effort to put discrimination back into Florida law.” said Smith. “Now is not the time for Florida to look back to its ugly past. It is time to secure full equality and chart a fair and inclusive path for our state.”
The bill to keep the gay adoption ban from being reinstated has one more reading in the senate. If it passes then, as is expected, it will be sent to Gov. Rick Scott.