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Republicans: Religious Freedom For Adoption

Florida House of Representatives

After voting last month to end Florida’s 1970s era ban on gay adoption, Conservative Republicans in the Florida House sent a different message Thursday, Jim Ash reports. To the jeers of gay and lesbian parents, the Judiciary Committee agreed to give private adoption agencies the right to discriminate.                                                                     

Daniel Nurse and his husband were elated the day they adopted their foster children.

“It was a miracle, it was like a dream come true. You want for so many years to have a loving family and that’s the day it happens.”

That’s why he felt obligated Thursday to step into a crowded committee room and fight a bill that would allow private adoption agencies to turn away prospective gay parents.

Republican Jason Brodeur of Sanford wants to allow private agencies to deny adoptions based on their quote, “religious or moral convictions or policies.” Nurse is incensed.

“We fought the same obstacles that now they’re saying is OK to do – and my children deserve better than that.”

A handful of gay adoptive parents swarmed the committee, like Amanda Williams of Alachua County. A social worker, Williams and her partner, Deena, fostered 20 troubled kids over the past four years. They adopted two of them.

“We only foster teenagers and usually difficult to place gay teens. So both of our teens were practically 17 when we adopted them. They were very unlikely, rare adoptions.”

Wiliams says the Legislature is regressing.

“Very disappointing. It’s a step backward for Florida and the fight for equality and having diversity everywhere.”

The bill gives private adoption agencies the right to deny adoption if they feel it would violate their written religious or moral convictions or policies.

Sponsors say the bill would withstand civil rights challenges after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, justices ruled that gays aren’t always a protected class. The Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, one of the largest providers in the state, supports the bill.

“So what this legislation would do if it were passed is preserve the status quo for faith-based organizations to place children in care while following their faith, their beliefs and their convictions.”

Virginia and North Dakota have so-called, “conscience protection” laws. The Catholic Church in Boston halted its adoption services in 2006 rather rather than comply with state anti-discrimination laws.

Three weeks ago, religious conservatives led an astonishing drive on the House floor to overturn Florida’s 1977 ban on gay adoptions. It was mostly symbolic. Courts overturned the ban five years ago. Republican Representative Dennis Baxley of Ocala led the fight for the repeal. Then he quietly changed his vote after he left the floor.

“I just can’t compromise something that is a core conviction of mine.”

That sparked the turnaround that resulted in the bill, critics say. Barbara DeVane, a veteran advocate for liberal causes, said conservatives want it both ways. Tey want to make it harder for gays to adopt, but they oppose abortion rights.

“Well, I think it’s the most disgusting thing that I have seen in over 40 years up here doing this thing.”  

Republican Representative Matt Hudson of Fort Myers doesn’t see any contradiction between lifting the gay ban, and voting to protect religious civil rights.

“But as it stands, I certainly think that people who have a belief and a standard and a moral code by which they live by should be allowed to exercise that.”

Democratic Representative Dave Kerner of Lake Worth says bill sponsors have their priorities backward.

 “To the folks who are listening to this broadcast and in this room, if you are of a different sexual orientation than me, and you are willing to adopt, thank you for doing that.”

The bill passed its first committee, 11-4.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.