For several years I’ve been following the case in which Martin Gill, a gay man in Florida, sought to adopt two foster kids who’ve now been in his care for six years. His case was one of several that challenged a Florida law that specifically prohibited lesbians and gay men from adopting.
The prohibition dated from 1977 when it was enacted as part of Anita Bryant’s moral crusade. It was the only one of its kind in the country. Last fall a Florida appellate court ruled it constitutional. The government did not appeal that ruling.
On January 19, Gill finalized his adoption. In many ways this is the end of his (specific) story. And as you read the story, think about this: How many people can really object to this adoption? For six years Gill has been a parent for these boys. Does anyone really think it would be better to move them away from stability and constancy simply because Gill is gay?
It’s worth noting that while Gill’s case may be over, his partner cannot adopt the boys. That’s because Gill and his partner are not married (nor could the be recognized as such in Florida) and unmarried couples cannot jointly adopt in Florida. That married-couple-only restriction is fairly common and often seems to be enacted specifically to present same-sex couples from adopting. I’ll come back to this in a moment.
Anyway, for now the boys end up in a two-parent household where only one parent has legal rights. That’s not ideal, but this restriction wasn’t challenged in Gill’s case. (This is likely under the category heading “one thing at a time.”)
Now even as Gill’s specific case came to its end Rick Scott, the new governor of Florida, discussed the general issue of adoption by lesbians and gay people. He’s against it. I’m not entirely clear about the basis of his opposition, but he’s quoted as saying that he believes that only married couples should be allowed to adopt. Notice that this is consistent with the general trend I identified, which is to replace laws explicitly prohibiting lesbian/gay adoption with laws that turn on marriage, which just happens to rule out all lesbian and gay couples in the state. It also tightens the linkages between access to marriage and the status of lesbians and gay people as parents.
The juxtaposition of the two stories (which probably isn’t chance–I bet the finalization of the Gill adoption made news to which the governor’s response) is interesting. First, it’s another instance of the specific case (Gill’s) becoming the focus of a more general discussion (lesbian/gay adoption.) As I said, it’s hard to imagine you could whip up much distress at the prospect of Gill getting to adopt the two boys who have lived with him as his foster sons for so long. Thus, the specific case makes general opposition to lesbian/gay adoption more difficult. In other words, because the governor cannot plausibly talk about the Gill adoption as a bad thing, and he would have a hard time saying all adoptions by lesbians and gay men are bad.
Which leads me to a second interesting thing–the shift of focus from adoption by lesbians and gay men to adoption by unmarried couples. There’s a general topic where, in Florida at least, there isn’t a specific case to focus on yet. In the absence of a specific case it’s much easier to speak in generalities. And that’s what the governor is doing. Of course, this dynamic only solidifies my belief that many of those objecting to unmarried couples adopting are mostly thinking about lesbians and gay men adopting.