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After ruling, gays face battle

Associated Press

Thursday September 13, 2001

MIAMI - Elaine Bloom has come to regret the day 24 years ago that she joined fellow members of the Legislature in voting to bar gays from adopting children.

"I have a grandson that's being brought up by two fathers," the former state representative said. "They are doing a magnificent job. They are two wonderfully devoted fathers. I just wish all children were as happy and well-adjusted as he is and bright and eager and loved."

She ruefully recalled that vote last week, when a federal judge upheld the 1977 law, which was passed around the time Anita Bryant, the TV spokeswoman for Florida's citrus industry, went on a crusade against a Dade County ordinance protecting homosexuals from discrimination.

"It was in the midst of the Anita Bryant hysteria," Bloom said. "We were wrong to let it get past us like that. Many were people like me who were considered moderate, traditional-type Democrats who just didn't want to make a major hurdle at the time because of the backlash."

Since the court ruling, gay rights activists have vowed to keep on fighting to get the law off the books, by way of either the courts or the Legislature. But the chances of the Legislature repealing the measure are seen as close to zero.

Florida is the first and only state with a law specifically banning any homosexual from adopting. Utah and Mississippi do not allow same-sex couples to adopt but have no prohibition against adoptions by gay individuals.

"Florida has a such a dubious distinction of having the most heinous law in the country," said David Smith, spokesman for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign. "We would do whatever we could to overturn it."

In a case brought by two gay men who wanted to adopt foster children already in their care, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King upheld the law Aug. 30, accepting the state's argument that married heterosexuals provide a more stable home. It was the first time a federal judge ruled on such a law.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal. The other option would be to ask lawmakers to repeal the law.

But former state Rep. Suzanne Jacobs tried that in 1992.

"It was the first bill I ever filed," she recalled. "I was a freshie and I didn't know any better in the sense I didn't realize what was going to happen to me."

She got hate mail from people "accusing me of every evil known to mankind, up to including satanic rituals." Jacobs said she was also pulled aside and told the bill had no chance of passing. She was promised an hour of debate in committee if she agreed to withdraw the bill afterward.

"The floodgates opened up," she said. Other legislators "did a whole dog-and-pony show and unleashed the most reprehensible, the most disgusting diatribe against gays that I heard in my life. They were talking about gays going to bathhouses and having 100 partners a night - things that have nothing to do with parenting."

And she believes it would be even more difficult to repeal the law today, with Republicans holding overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate.

"The temper and the tone of Tallahassee is much more conservative, much more rigid and much more looking back than when I got there in 1992," she said. "With the right-wing Republicans, it's not a happy place these days."

Republican Gov. Jeb Bush said he supports the judge's ruling but would not comment further. The top-ranking Republicans in the Legislature, House Speaker Tom Feeney and Senate President John McKay, did not return calls for comment.

Republican state Rep. Jerry Melvin, who was a conservative Democrat when he voted for the gay adoption ban in 1977, said he would fight any attempt at repeal.

"It just shows the moral decay that our country's continuing to come under when people try to destroy any type of law that upholds the family structure of our nation," he said. "I'm just an old prude, I guess, but that's my standards."

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said gays will not let up the fight.

"It's our hope they'll make their voices heard this session and how ever many sessions it takes to repeal this law," she said. "The ruling dealt a severe blow for the legal challenge, but it's far from over. It's certainly not the last word. But the good news is it has drawn attention to a law that most people are shocked to discover even exists."


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