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PURE DISCRIMINATION



Published: Wed, September 5, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: Steven Lofton, a pediatric nurse, has spent the last 10 years caring full-time for three foster children born with HIV. A child placement agency in Florida gave him its Outstanding Foster Parenting award. But when Lofton applied to adopt one of his children, Florida state authorities denied the application. The same fate met Douglas Houghton Jr., who -- as a federal district court wrote -- has cared for a child since that child's "biological father, suffering from alcohol abuse and inconsistent employment, voluntarily left him with Houghton (at) four years old." Why were these apparently worthy parents turned down? A Florida law forbids anybody to adopt "if that person is a homosexual."

A federal court in Florida upheld this most offensive of prohibitions against gay adoption -- the strictest in the country -- against a constitutional challenge by Lofton and Houghton. Judge James Lawrence King wrote that he did not doubt that the "emotional ties" between these men and their foster children were "as close as those between biological parents" and their children or that "a deeply loving and interdependent relationship" is present. Nor did he buy Florida's contention that the law is a legitimate expression of "the State's moral disapproval of homosexuality." The judge rightly noted that a discriminatory "classification to express society's disapproval of a group" is unconstitutional, "precisely what the Equal Protection Clause does not allow." But in the judge's view, the state had offered another basis for its discriminatory policy, one sufficiently rational as to compel him to validate the law: "a child's best interest is to be raised in a home stabilized by marriage, in a family consisting of both a mother and a father."

Moral absurdity: The notion that such a judgment could justify banning all gay adoptions is as absurd legally as it is morally. Though Florida does not allow unmarried couples to adopt jointly, fully 25 percent of children adopted in Florida out of foster care are adopted by unmarried individuals. So if the goal really is to ensure that adoptive children are put into households bound together by marriage, it is being violated routinely in practice. In fact, gays are the only group categorically prevented from eligibility for adoption: Substance abusers, perpetrators of domestic violence, even many felons are not automatically disqualified.

The irrationality of the anti-gay rule is highlighted by the circumstances of this case. No one can argue seriously that the state's law is protecting the "best interest" of these children by making them subject to removal from the only stable homes they have known. There are 3,400 children awaiting adoption in Florida; the state isn't serving their interests, either, by removing an entire category of potential loving parents from consideration. There is simply nothing that can justify this law. It is, rather, precisely the sort of unjustified targeting of vulnerable minorities that the Constitution forbids.




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