Ignorance rules Florida Legislature

Ignorance rules Florida Legislature

by Donna M. Carbone
April 9, 2015

A return to the Dark Ages took place in Tallahassee on April 9th when the Florida legislature voted to endorse HB7111 (a revenge bill) by a vote of 75-38. The bill effectively issues a license to discriminate against the gay population in matters involving private adoptions. As corrosive as this bill is to equal rights for all people, the behavior of Florida House Judiciary Committee Chair Charles McBurney during recent hearings was an embarrassment to the State of Florida and all educated people of good character. When a very nervous 10-year old Nathanial Gill attempted to address the committee in a faltering voice that spoke to the importance of his words, McBurney cut him off before he was finished by laughing and saying, “Unfortunately, your minute’s up.” Perhaps, Mr. McBurney felt threatened by what would come out of the mouth of this “baby.”

On March 11, the Florida House of Representatives passed HB 7013, which effectively removed from state law the ban on adoptions by homosexuals. The ban has not been enforced since 2010 when a Florida appeals court declared it unconstitutional in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). At the center of that controversy was Martin Gill - Nathanial Gill’s father - a gay man living in Dade County.

In 2005, Mr. Gill became a foster parent to two brothers then aged 5 and 1. The early years of the boys lives had been spent in a grossly dysfunctional environment.  Mr. Gill became the rudder on the choppy sea that had been their life.

Gill fed them, bathed them and nurtured them. He cared for them when they were sick, lifted their spirits when they were sad and held them when they were hurt. Together they laughed and cried, smiled and frowned, grew up and grew together -- as a family should. He was what all foster parents should be... devoted to the children in his charge.

The boys are African American. Mr. Gill is white. By his actions, he taught them acceptance of self and others, regardless of skin color. Having been exposed to drugs while still in the womb and abuse after they were born, the brothers were both classified as special needs children but, to Mr. Gill, the most important need was to love them, which he did unconditionally.

Despite all his admirable qualities, Mr. Gill’s sexual orientation made him an unsuitable candidate for a parent under Florida’s 33-year old ban on gay adoptions. He decided to fight to keep the boys he loved and battle lines were drawn. The next two years must have felt like an eternity in hell. Thankfully, a very wise decision by the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami turned hell into heaven on earth for this father and his sons – a place where they could legally be a family.

In November 2008, a Miami-Dade County family court judge declared Florida's gay adoption ban unconstitutional. At the time of the ruling, the judge stated that Mr. Gill and his partner were "the best" parents for the two boys.  The State immediately appealed and any hope that justice would prevail quickly faded. During oral arguments before the Third District Court of Appeal in August 2009, a lawyer for the state made it clear that, if the court allowed the ban to stand, the state would immediately begin to find new homes for the boys. This is the same state that granted custody to Mr. Gill in 2004. 

State Attorney General Bill McCollum was hired to represent the Department of Children and Families in the case. DCFS wanted the children removed from Mr. Gill’s influence, despite glowing reports of superior care, and placed for adoption by someone else – someone not gay.

The Appellate Court dragged its feet in making a ruling. No judge wanted to go on record as being for or against the ban. Two years passed during which the Gill family resided in a limbo of uncertainty. Then, Governor Charlie Crist announced that he was contemplating dropping the state’s appeal. 

While at first glance Crist’s decision might have seemed favorable for Gill, such a decision would only have a positive effect in Miami/Dade County. The ban on gay adoptions would remain on the books and judges in other counties could invoke the law, hindering attempts by others in the gay community who wanted to open their hearts and their homes to children in need.

By some miracle, the dawn of a new age began in Florida. Moving away from blind ignorance and bigotry into the light of wisdom and acceptance, the Third District Court of Appeals ruled the ban on gay adoptions unconstitutional, thereby declaring Mr. Gill legally a father to his sons. As a result, when gay and lesbian people petition the Department of Children and Families to adopt, they can no longer be turned away.

In 2009, I was optimistic our state representatives would recognize that the time had come to put our shameful past behind us. I was certain our elected officials would understand that there is no magical hormone which provides a rush of maternal/paternal instinct, making us instantly loving and caring parents. Real mothers and fathers are not the result of bloodline or sexual preference.

That optimism was shattered when Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) proposed HB111 which allows discrimination against gays and lesbians wanting to adopt based on religious beliefs. The successful adoption of this bill makes me ashamed to call myself a Christian.

Parenting is hard work and the most important job any of us, who so choose, will ever do. To be responsible for another human being, to provide nourishment for the body, mind and soul, to teach by book and example, to make strong physically and emotionally, to give love freely expecting nothing in return -- that is the definition of a mother and father.

Martin Gill fulfilled all those requirements. He fulfilled them long before a court allowed him to legally be called “Daddy.” To him and all those (regardless of sexual orientation) who open their lives and their hearts to children in need I say, “Bravo. I’m proud to have known you even if only through the media. You are a fine example of what parents should always strive to be.”

Faith and religion are two distinctly different entities. HR 7111 is not a faith-based bill. It is a shameful attempt to use mendacious doctrines as a cattle prod to control the masses. I encourage Floridians to remember the names Charles McBurney, James Brodeur and all those who approved HR7111 when they next go to the polls. Vote out ignorance. Vote in a legislative body accepting of all people.

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