In 2004, the state of Florida took custody of two young boys, brothers ages 4 years and 4 months, whose parents were seriously neglecting them. While the four-year-old had taught himself to feed his baby brother and to change diapers, both boys were sorely in need of loving, capable adults to care for and guide them. They found this care in Martin Gill and his long-term domestic partner, who took the boys in as foster children.
The boys flourished socially and otherwise during two years they lived with Gill as a family, and Gill sought to adopt them. He could not do so, however, because the state of Florida does not allow people who are gay or lesbian to adopt children. In 1977, the state passed a law banning adoption by gays and lesbians, which has yet to be repealed.
Gill could not bear the thought that the boys might be separated and taken from the only home they had ever known, and so he challenged the adoption ban in court. In 2008, a Miami circuit court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. The state’s appeal is still pending, however. The boys, now 5 and 9 years old, do not fully understand what adoption means -- but they eagerly await the day they can share a last name with their doting father.
For years, courts across the nation have decided custody issues in terms of the “best interest of the child.” The courts have a role to play in adoption cases as well, to ensure that no child is deprived of a family and permanent home because of prejudice and baseless myths about gay people.
Florida families such as Martin Gill’s are not the only ones whose rights are at risk. In Arkansas, a law was passed by referendum in 2008 that bans all unmarried people living with an unmarried partner from adopting or fostering children. A challenge to that law, Cole v. Arkansas, expected to go to trial in May 2010, was brought on behalf of “20 individuals from nine different families, including a lesbian who lives with her partner of nine years and is the only relative able and willing to adopt her grandchild who is now in Arkansas state care, several married heterosexual couples who have relatives or friends disqualified by Act 1 who they want to adopt their children if they die, and a heterosexual woman who wants to be a foster or adoptive parent but can’t because she lives with her partner of five years.”
The battle to ensure the rights of LGBT individuals has been labeled by many as “the civil rights struggle of our generation.” As the Gill family’s story shows, discrimination against LGBT people has collateral consequences for others, including vulnerable children. Let’s hope, over the years to come, that the courts help to dismantle all manner of institutionalized discrimination and to protect the civil and human rights of all people -- especially our nation’s children.
(Photo by twodolla.)