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Bill to End Ban on Gay Adoption Returns

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Tallahassee, FL – A bill to end Florida's ban on allowing gays and lesbians to adopt is back for the eighth straight year. But for the first time in decades, the issue was heard - if only briefly - on the House and Senate floors. Margie Menzel reports.

"This bill on this amendment points out that government should not ask irrelevant questions in the adoption process, which show us nothing about a person's ability to provide a permanent and loving home, whether it's lawful and responsible gun ownership or a person's sexual orientation."

Rep. Scott Randolph, Democrat of Orlando, offering an amendment Tuesday on a bill that would stop adoption agencies from discriminating against gun owners. His amendment proposed a similar ban on discrimination against gays and lesbians. In the Senate, meanwhile, Senate President Jeff Atwater allowed Sen. Charlie Justice, Democrat of St. Petersburg, to offer a like amendment, also on Tuesday. Both Randolph and Justice withdrew the amendments before they came to a vote, but the debates were historic, the first time in 33 years that gay adoption was debated in either chamber.

"It is bigotry that is the source of this bill."

Rep. Mary Brandenburg, Democrat of Lake Worth. This year is Brandenburg's eighth try at passing a measure to allow gays and lesbians to adopt children.

"And one of my fears is that bigotry may be one of the reasons this bill is not moving this year in the Legislature," Branbenburg said.

Florida is the only state that doesn't permit gays and lesbians to adopt. According to the Department of Children and Families, 850 children in foster care are available for adoption, and there were a total of 18,538 children in foster care as of March 14, 2010. But John Stemberger - president of the Florida Family Policy Council and guiding spirit behind the successful drive to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman - says there are tens of thousands of would-be adoptive parents.

"So the universe of parents that want to adopt kids far outweighs the number of kids that are available," Stemberger said. "Now, the hard cases are the children who are older, have behavioral problems, and who have severe handicaps and servere medical issues. And unfortunately, those are the very difficult children. I don't see homosexual activists lining up for those children at all."

Stemberger also says gays and lesbians have higher rates of social problems and that the evidence shows that one-man, one-woman marriages are more successful at parenting.

"We made this case in the marriage amendment battle, defining marriage. It would be like trying to find research on whether trauma breaks somebody's leg. It's just replete in the literature, and any social science person would tell you that's the case. There's hundreds of studies - in fact, thousands of studies - in the last 40 or 50 years that bear that fact out.

But Brandenburg, too, says the evidence is on her side.

"We know from experience that children in foster care don't do well," she said. "They're more likely to be high school drop-outs, they're more likely to get in trouble with the law, they're more likely to experiment with drugs. Adoptive children, on the other hand, can thrive in all kinds of loving families."

Meanwhile, a state appeals court is considering whether the law banning gay adoption is unconstitutional. The 3rd District Court of Appeals could rule at any time on a case in which a Miami judge allowed Martin Gill, a gay man, to adopt two foster children - African American brothers who had been severely neglected but have recovered, if not flourished, in his care. The state is appealing the adoptions. Stemberger , however, points to a recent gathering of church members in Fort Lauderdale at which 224 families said they'd like to start the process of adopting a child from Florida foster care.

"So the answer is found in churches and communities, not in unraveling our current laws which prohibit homosexuals from adopting," Stemberger said.

Brandenburg's bill faces three committee stops. She's term-limited this year but says her husband, Pete, who's running for her seat, will bring the bill back if elected.