Do you know the story of Martin Gill and his two boys ? It began two weeks before Christmas in 2004, when the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) called Gill, an experienced foster parent, and pressed him to take in 4-year-old and 4-month-old brothers with no where else to go. Gill and his partner were reluctant. They were moving to Georgia shortly, and didn’t want to add another disruption to the boys’ life. But the social workers pushed. There was nowhere else, no family, no other foster family, nothing for these two if Gill and his partner didn’t step up.
They did. Later, when the rights of the boys’ biological parents were terminated, social workers sought a permanent adoptive home for the boys. Gill and his partner, who had long since cancelled their move and changed their lives for the boys, stepped up again. But because the men were gay, Florida law said no.
A Florida appellate court yesterday upheld a lower court ruling overturning that law . Florida governor (and independent Senate candidate) Charlie Crist, who once supported the law, now applauds its end. But Florida’s Attorney General disagrees, and may still appeal the ban on behalf of its “client”: the Florida DCF. If it wins, the DCF has avowed its intent to remove Gill’s boys from their home. Less than half of the children in foster care and in need of an adoptive home are actually adopted in any given year, and most of those are adopted by their foster families. Why would the same agency that pressured Gill to take the children in the first place now feel compelled to at least give lip service to the idea that no parent at all would be better than Gill and his partner?
The answer is and always will be politics, and the urge to find a one-size-fits-all set of rules with which to set aside a difficult issue: not gay and lesbian adoption, but adoption from foster care itself. There are still 19,000 kids in foster care awaiting adoption in Florida alone. It’s much easier to argue about whether or not Florida’s gay and lesbian population should be allowed to adopt those children than to deal with the fact that neither they, nor Florida’s straight voters on either side of this issue, are exactly lining up to do so. Most Florida voters don’t care what happens to Gill and his sons specifically. What they want is an assurance that all of the kids in state custody will somehow be suitably cared for, and that’s one thing no law can guarantee.
Martin Gill, who stepped up not just for his kids, but for every child who needs a parent and might now be more likely to find one, should sleep a little easier now. Every verdict that removes his case from the possible vagaries of individual lower court judges lowers the chances that a rogue ruling will derail the life of his boys. It’s an axiom among judges that hard cases make bad law, but for a slightly conservative-leaning Florida Supreme Court with at least one adoptive parent on its bench (Justice Ricky Polston), the opposite may be true. No matter what their ideological leanings, it’s hard to imagine that four of seven, if appealed to, will vote to support the Florida DCF in ripping the two children Gill parents from the home it begged Martin Gill to offer them six years ago. But even as good law prevails, a bigger achievement eludes us. If Florida’s DCF gets 19,000 phone calls from prospective parents tonight, now that would be a victory.
Photograph of gay family by ScienceGenetics for Wikimedia Commons.