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E-mails protest plight of boy, 10

March 14, 2002 

In only three days, Gov. Jeb Bush and the head of the state Department of Children & Families were inundated with more than 63,000 e-mails from people opposed to a Florida law that prevents gay people from adopting, according to the ACLU.

And that is just the beginning of a massive multi-media campaign the ACLU plans to open to full-throttle today to build support for its fight to overturn Florida's gay adoption ban.

People from all over the country sent e-mail to Florida leaders after visiting a new ACLU-sponsored Web site, The Web site details the case of five gay men who are challenging in federal court the state ban on gay adoption.

"The gay adoption ban has no basis in child welfare," say the form letters e-mailed to Bush and Kathleen Kearney, the head of DCF. "In fact, as leading children's groups recently said, this law is hurting children ... . As evidence continues to mount that this law discriminates unfairly and fails Florida's children, I urge you to publicly voice your support for overturning or repealing it."

Florida residents sent about 10 percent of the e-mail, according to the ACLU, which claims to have the technology on its Web site to keep a running tally of messages sent.

However, Bush's office has logged 15,000 e-mails regarding the gay adoption issue, and only 3,000 of them are from Florida residents, said Elizabeth Hirst, a Bush spokeswoman.

When asked for Bush's comment on the e-mail, Hirst would say only that "the state of Florida is complying with current law."

Other attempts to change the state law have failed. Many Florida legislators and voters agree with Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has said he is "a big believer that a man and woman who are married should be the parents of children.

The ACLU wants to force Bush and other state leaders to say and do more to change the law. The e-mail from people who say they have been moved to action after reading about Florida's law, might help the organization convince state leaders that change is the will of their constituents.

The ACLU created the site to detail the plight of Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau, a gay couple who want to adopt their 10-year-old foster son, Bert, but cannot because of the law. The DCF has said it plans to remove Bert from the only home he has ever known, saying that foster placements are only temporary. Thus the Web site's title, Let Him Stay. The couple lived in Miami when they adopted Bert, and have since moved to Oregon.

Lofton is one of five gay men who joined the ACLU last year in filing a federal lawsuit that seeks to have the Florida law ruled unconstitutional. They all are awaiting a hearing on the case before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in Atlanta.

While they await action in the courts, the ACLU and other activists plan to use television, newspapers and other news media in an educational campaign to influence the public, the courts and perhaps even enough legislators to change the law.

At a news conference this morning in Miami, national and local gay rights activists are expected to demand Bush and Kearney use their powers to change state policy regarding gay people who want to be parents. The ACLU also will announce the release of a book the organization has published that outlines why the ACLU does not want gays to be prevented from adopting. The plan is to distribute the book to legislators, policymakers, community leaders and anyone else who wants it, said Eric Ferrero, one of its writers.

The release of the book, Too High a Price, coincides with a widely promoted two-hour television special, Primetime Thursday airing at 9 tonight on ABC, which focuses on foster care in America. The show highlights Florida's gay adoption ban and how it is preventing Lofton from adopting Bert.

In an attempt to widen the audience that will take the time to stop and at least consider the issue of gay adoption, talk show host Rosie O'Donnell shares her experience as a gay parent on the Primetime Thursday show, in the ACLU book and on the Web site.

O'Donnell might attract an audience that otherwise would not be interested in what the ACLU has to say, explained Ferrero, public education director for the ACLU's Lesbian & Gay Rights Project.

"Twenty-five years ago, celebrity helped get support for the gay adoption ban," said Ferrero, referring to singer/anti-gay rights activist Anita Bryant's push to pass the law in 1977. "If the power of celebrity can now help turn that around, that's fine."

In herintroduction to the ACLU book, and in her television interview, O'Donnell explains she's publicly discussing her sexuality for a greater purpose.

"I don't think America knows what a gay parent looks like. I am the gay parent. America has watched me parent my children on TV for six years. They know what kind of a parent I am," O'Donnell tells ABC's Diane Sawyer.

"I want people to know that I'm the kind of parent that the State of Florida ... thinks is unworthy and it's wrong," said O'Donnell, who has homes in Miami Beach and New York. For 18 months, O'Donnell was a foster mother to a special-needs girl from South Florida. And she is the adoptive mother of three children from another state that allows gay people to adopt.

But it was the story of Lofton and Bert that really "stunned" her and moved her to act, O'Donnell said in the interview and her writing. She also is motivated to push for change because 3,400 foster children in Florida need adoptive parents. That pool of potential parents is unjustly limited by the gay adoption ban, she said.

State Rep. Randy Ball, R-Titusville, offered Sawyer a different perspective on thelaw.

"A child is greatly benefited in his social and in his emotional development if he can understand and experience the relationship of a man and a woman," he tells Sawyer. "When a child is not exposed to that relationship," says Ball, "it greatly stunts his development emotionally and psychologically."

Producers for the television show called 24 Florida legislators before they found someone willing to go on camera to discuss the ban, a network spokesman said.

"I am glad to go on camera and to speak with the media because I feel very strongly that allowing homosexuals to adopt is a bad idea, primarily because of the evidence which conclusively shows that homosexual lifestyle is a very destructive one," Ball told the Sun-Sentinel. He quoted several studies, including two by the Centers for Disease Control.

"I believe the law is justified on moral grounds, but not everyone shares my Christian views and they want the scientific argument," Ball said.

In its book the ACLU also uses studies by nationally recognized researchers to support its argument that children raised by loving gay parents are no more at risk of emotional, developmental or psychological problems than children raised by loving heterosexual parents.

Those studies were cited by national child welfare and medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Child Welfare League of America, which have weighed in recently in support of changing the Florida law.

By Terri Somers. Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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