[fla-left] [human rights] Gay plaintiffs fight for parenthood (fwd)

Michael Hoover hoov at freenet.tlh.fl.us
Fri Mar 31 14:10:04 PST 2000

forwarded by Michael Hoover

> Published Sunday, March 26, 2000, in the Miami Herald
> Gay plaintiffs fight for parenthood
> Adoption suit vs. state puts quiet lives in spotlight
> adriscoll at herald.com
> There's no doubt in Douglas Houghton's mind when
> he looks at the 8-year-old boy he calls ``Son.''
> ``I'm his dad and he's my son, and that's it,'' he says
> quietly.
> But in the state of Florida, that's not it.
> Houghton, who has housed, fed and cared for the
> special-needs boy for the past four years, isn't
> allowed to make their father-son relationship
> official for one reason: Houghton is gay.
> Florida is the only state in the nation that prohibits
> gay people from adopting children. New
> Hampshire repealed a similar law last year,
> while Mississippi's lawmakers are considering
> imposing a ban on adoptions by gay people.
> The Florida law is hardly a ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy.
> The state adoption application spells it out: ``No person
> . . . may adopt if that person is a homosexual.'' Prospective
> parents must answer, yes or no, whether they are homosexual
> or bisexual.
> Yet the state does not ban gay men or lesbians from
> serving as foster parents. The state Department
> of Children and Families doesn't ask the sexual
> orientation of foster parents, and many openly gay
> singles and same-sex couples serve as foster parents
> in Florida.
> The adoption law, enacted during Anita Bryant's
> anti-gay crusade of the 1970s, is under attack by
> the American Civil Liberties Union in a federal
> lawsuit before U.S. District Judge James Lawrence
> King in Miami. A ruling is expected within weeks.
> Houghton, 37, and the boy, ``John Roe,'' are among
> 11 plaintiffs in the suit. Others include a Nova
> Southeastern University law professor who cannot
> adopt because she is a lesbian, and a heterosexual
> couple who want a gay relative in Key West to adopt
> their daughter should something happen to them.
> To Houghton, a law passed more than two decades ago
> seems far removed from the daily realities of his life as
> parent to a special-needs child. He asked that the exact
> nature of the boy's medical condition be kept private to
> avoid identifying the child.
> Houghton has been a surrogate father to John Roe
> since the day, more than four years ago, when the boy's
> biological father dropped him off at a medical clinic where
> Houghton worked as a nurse practitioner. The boy's father
> explained that the family had been evicted from their home
> and he had no place to take his son. He asked Houghton,
> who had helped with medical care for the boy since he was
> 1 1/2 years old, to take him.
> Houghton, a single man with no children, didn't hesitate.
> The child, 3 at the time, went home with Houghton that night.
> It was an unlikely scenario. There were race differences --
> Houghton is white, the boy is black -- a socioeconomic gap,
> the demands of the boy's medical needs and a deficit in his
> basic skills.
> ``Wow -- instant dad,'' Houghton said, laughing. ``It was
> quite an adjustment.''
> If the first six months were a trial run, the second six were
> ``freakout time,'' Houghton says, with both sides unsure if
> the arrangement would work.
> But after that rocky first year, they settled in. And over the
> following months -- at the breakfast table, with each
> parent-teacher conference, during all the soccer practices
> and homework sessions -- the family bond between Houghton
> and the boy strengthened. The boy's biological father signed
> over guardianship rights.
> Houghton, who even moved to Coconut Grove so the boy
> could attend a good school, says adoption felt like a natural
> step.
> ``I was prepared to sue the state myself if that's what it took,''
> Houghton said. ``This boy has brought so much joy into my life.''
> The boy, shy in front of strangers, whispers to Houghton asking
> if he can have a snack. Houghton nods and the boy bolts to the
> refrigerator, taking out a tray of prepared shrimp cocktail.
> ``He loves shrimp,'' Houghton said, laughing. ``It's his favorite.''
> The boy nods happily, silently grinning at the ground, aware of
> the attention focused on him.
> Later, they sit at the grand piano in the living room, the boy
> plunking away on the polished keys, Houghton encouraging him.
> ``It's better than I ever imagined,'' Houghton said, reflecting on his
> life with the boy. ``I just want the legal solidification. Right now, it
> still feels tenuous to both of us.''
> Activism is not something Houghton would have chosen. He
> lives a quiet life, now in a committed relationship, with a
> supportive family. He has never sought the spotlight and probably
> never would have. But this was too important.
> ``I've never been on a march or participated in a protest. I'm
> more in the `one person at a time' kind of mode,'' Houghton
> said. ``But once I decide to do something, I do it. And this law
> is wrong.''
> In May 1999, the ACLU and Children First Project filed suit on
> behalf of the 11 plaintiffs challenging the law on constitutional
> grounds, saying it violates due process and privacy rights. The
> suit names the state attorney general and the Department of
> Children and Families.
> The department argues that it is merely carrying out the wishes
> of the Legislature, which enacted the law in 1977. ``We are upholding
> the law. The Legislature decided that this is what should happen, or
> not happen. And they are the ones that would have to change the law
> if it were to be changed,'' said DCF spokeswoman Page Jolly.
> John Dowless, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida,
> says his organization backs the Florida law.
> ``The state should be going after the ideal -- and that's a home with \
> a mother and a father,'' he said.
> Those who are fighting the law, he said, ``are more concerned with
> pursuing rights and what they care about than what's best for the child.''
> What about a special-needs child, long past infancy? Should he wait --
> possibly forever -- for a home with a mother and a father?
> ``I can't comment on specific cases,'' Dowless said. ``We just believe
> that the state should strive for the ideal home.''
> The law affects more than Florida's gay and lesbian population. In
> some cases, it reaches across state lines and over the borders of
> sexual politics.
> When Brenda and Gregory Bradley of Reno, Nev., were making out
> their wills, they discussed long and hard which family member they
> would ask to adopt their child, 2-year-old Kristina, if they were
> to die unexpectedly.
> They chose Brenda's brother in Key West, Wayne Smith, and his
> partner, Dan Skahen -- only to be told it would be illegal in Florida
> for the couple to adopt Kristina.
> ``I had to tell them there was a law against it,'' said Smith, 44.
> ``Here they were offering us this sacred trust and the state of Florida
> is saying no.''
> The Bradleys were taken aback.
> ``We took a lot of time making the decision, and we didn't want
> there to be any possibility that Kristina would end up with someone
> not of our choosing,'' Gregory Bradley said. ``A law is preventing
> us from doing what we think is best for our child.''
> About a year later, when the ACLU was ready to file its lawsuit, the
> Bradleys, Smith and Skahen were ready to challenge the law.
> ``We're in this together,'' Gregory Bradley said.
> Smith and Skahen already care for a 90-year-old woman, the
> mother of a friend who died of AIDS, and they have recently become
> foster parents to a 15-year-old boy. They have schedules that can
> accommodate children -- Smith is a lawyer and Skahen is a real
> estate broker -- and they live in a plush Key West home built around
> a sparkling pool.
> Going public with their fight took courage. ``I still feel some reluctance,''
> Smith said. ``I feel intruded upon. This is not something I would seek out.
> Being so public does not come naturally.''
> They could move, of course, to another state. ``That crossed our minds,''
> he said. ``And we would do it if necessary for Kristina. But we want to
> stay here, we have established good careers here and roots, and so
> there just weren't any options left. We could give up -- or challenge the
> law.''
> They are asking, they say, for the same rules as any other person in the
> state.
> ``We want to be considered, that's all,'' Skahen said. ``We just don't
> want to
> be eliminated for being gay.''

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