Good news for children in need of loving families: Florida no longer considers adoption by gay women and men to be unconstitutional under article 1, section 2, of the Florida Constitution. On September 22, 2010, a three-judge panel in the Florida Third District Court of Appeal unanimously struck down a Florida ban on gay adoption. You can read the opinion here [PDF].
The plaintiff, Martin Gill, had been allowed to be a foster parent to his two adopted children but was denied legal adoption under § 63.042 (3), a Florida statute banning adoption by gay men and women, despite being deemed a fit parent. In striking down this ban, the court applied a rational basis test, the lowest form of scrutiny that a court can give a constitutional review. The court found that precluding gay men and women from adopting did not have a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental objective.
This decision applies statewide, but it could conceivably be overturned by the Florida State Supreme Court. However, Governor Charlie Crist has indicated that he is willing to accept the court’s ruling and will immediately stop enforcing the ban on gay adoption.
This is great news for the LGBT community and the potential children they would adopt who are desperately seeking loving homes and families. It’s especially timely, coming after a recent study on children raised by lesbian mothers.
In the largest, longest running, prospective, longitudinal study of same-sex-parented families, Nanette Gartrell, MD, and Henny Bos, PhD, found that:
17-year-old daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts in Achenbach’s normative sample of American youth.
Whether the mother was partnered or single, and even in the cases where a lesbian couple separated, the children scored “similarly to children raised by heterosexual parents on measures of development and social behavior.” Further, the children raised by a lesbian parent or parents “scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule-breaking and aggression.”
The researchers started recruiting their prospective lesbian mothers as subjects for the study in 1986, finalizing the list of 154 subjects (70 birth mothers, 70 co-mothers, and 14 single mothers) in 1992. The study followed planned lesbian families and thus was able to track the mothers’ data in interviews, questionnaires, and “Child Behavior Checklists” from the time of conception to adulthood (the study is ongoing) of the 78 now-teenage “index offspring,” 39 girls and 39 boys. Interviews and questionnaires were also completed by the children themselves at the ages of 10 and 17.
The study was made possible thanks to the financial support of the Gill Foundation, the Lesbian Health Fund of the Gay Lesbian Medical Association, Horizons Foundation, and the Roy Scrivner Fund of the American Psychological Association. Even though the report includes the statement “funding sources played no role in the design or conduct of the study; the management, analysis, or interpretation of the data; or the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript,” the legitimacy of its findings due to the study’s funding sources has still been questioned. In response to this criticism, Dr. Gartrell said “my personal investment is in doing reputable research. This is a straightforward statistical analysis. It will stand and it has withstood very rigorous peer review by the people who make the decision whether or not to publish it.” Indeed, the study was just published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, what one blogger terms a “widely respected journal.”
The Women’s Law Project hopes this study helps us advance to the next step in equal rights for the LGBTQ community, specifically in regards to parenting rights – something we have worked hard for over the years. Dabney Miller, WLP’s Associate Director, led early efforts in Pennsylvania to secure the right to second-parent adoption for lesbian and gay parents, which ultimately resulted in a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court finding that the Pennsylvania Adoption Act does indeed permit lesbian and gay parents to adopt the children of their partners, thereby securing the children’s rights to Social Security survivor benefits, inheritance, child support, and other elements of a stable, secure childhood. Slow-to-change societal attitudes will hopefully be challenged by this straightforward, quantitative analysis of the outcomes of lesbian parenting – which we’re also seeing in court decisions like the one in Florida.
In the words of Dr. Gartrell:
One of the things that opponents of the equalities of gays and lesbians — in marriage, parenting, adoption and foster care — often bring up is the so-called gold standard of parenting, which defined by them is the traditional family where children are conceived in traditional ways and not through insemination or surrogates. But, when we compared the adolescents in our study to the so-called gold standard, we found the teens with lesbian mothers were actually doing better.
Dr. Gartrell attributes these findings to the level of involvement and commitment to the children and the family that the lesbian mothers demonstrated throughout the study.
“They are very involved in their children’s lives,” she says of the lesbian parents. “And that is a great recipe for healthy outcomes for children. Being present, having good communication, being there in their schools, finding out what is going on in their schools and various aspects of the children’s lives is very, very important.”
Additionally, the deliberate, planned nature of the conception may play a role. The children “didn’t arrive by accident,” she said. “The mothers were older… they were waiting for an opportunity to have children and age brings maturity and better parenting.”
As for the results, Dr. Gartrell commented “we simply expected to find no difference in psychological adjustment between adolescents reared in lesbian families and the normative sample of age-matched controls. I was surprised to find that on some measures we found higher levels of [psychological] competency and lower levels of behavioral problems. It wasn’t something I anticipated.”
In the conclusion of the report, the researchers assert that “restrictions of child custody and reproductive technologies based on sexual orientation are not justified.” We hope future developments in courts and legislatures across the country will, in response to these findings, continue to break down the barriers to parenthood for gay and lesbian couples.