Florida Senate votes to repeal gay adoption ban

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Sen. Don Gaetz

Although Florida’s ban on adoptions by same-sex couples has been officially lifted since 2010, the law remains on the books, so to speak, since lawmakers never actually repealed it. That changed today (Tuesday, April 14).

The Florida Senate today gave final approval to a bill primarily intended to help more foster children find permanent homes, but which also removes the ban on adoption by same-sex couples.

Nadine Smith, chief executive of Equality Florida praised the bipartisan vote as a “symbolic action [that will] finally move our state past its Anita Bryant era of discrimination and intolerance.

Smith said that former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Destin, helped clinch the deal with his “eloquent” arguments urging lawmakers not to be swayed by arguments that the bill might go against the religious principles of some private, taxpayer-supported adoption agencies.

Gaetz, a Lutheran, pointed out that his denomination, which does not discriminate against same-sex couples as prospective adoptive parents, placed 183 children in adoptive homes last year. That’s “more than three times as many” adopted through the Lutheran agencies as through the Baptist and Catholic agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex couples. “So I ask you today to follow the law,” Gaetz said. “Follow the law that says we don’t discriminate. Follow the law that says we’re going to give these [children waiting for adoption] the best chance we can.”

Watch Gaetz’s closing arguments below.

The bill has already been approved by the House of Representatives and now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.

The ban dates back to 1977 when right-wing singer Anita Bryant launched her “Save Our Children” campaign. It survived several court challenges and even was upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004. It was overturned in 2010 when a state appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that the ban violated the Florida state constitution, and the governor and attorney general chose not to appeal further.

—  Tammye Nash

Florida House committee approves anti-LGBT adoption bill

Even as the Indiana Legislature begins consideration of an amendment to its recently approved Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would bar discrimination by private businesses based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity, Equality Florida is reporting that anti-gay legislation is making headway in the Sunshine State.

You’d think that the massive backlash over Indiana’s anti-gay RFRA that has sent lawmakers there scrambling into damage control mode and convinced Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to change his mind about signing a similar bill in his state might make lawmakers elsewhere think twice, too.

But not in Florida, apparently. They ain’t gonna be skeered off in Florida.

According to an Equality Florida press statement released this afternoon (Thursday, April 2), the Florida House Judiciary Committee has Screen shot 2015-04-02 at 4.13.50 PMpassed an adoption bill that would allow discrimination against prospective LGBT parents “and places childrebn seeking a permanent home at continued risk.”

“This is Indiana-style legalized discrimination, plain and simple,” Equality Florida Public Policy Specialist Carlos Guillermo Smith declared in the statement. “But it’s even worse because this promotes state-sanctioned and taxpayer-funded discrimination.”

Smith, saying that lawmakers know the bill is “as indefensible as it is unnecessary,” said the new measure would allow any private adoption agency — either secular or religious — to discriminate against prospective parents based on sexual orientation, gender identity, family status and religious or political beliefs.

“One of the cruelest measures embedded in the bill would allow agencies to refuse to place foster children with members of their extended families based on their marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion,” the Equality Florida statement says. “A loving, unmarried grandparent, for example, or a stable, welcoming relative of a different faith could be deemed unsuitable under the proposed law.”

Smith noted that Florida already has an Religious Freedom Restoration Act in place that allows faith-based organizations to factor in religious beliefs when offering adoption and other services. The new bill, he added, “strips prospective parents of legal recourse if they’ve been discriminated against, and prohibits the state from withholding taxpayer money from discriminatory agencies.”

Ellen Kahn, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Children, Youth and Families Program, also condemned in the new bill, saying it “flies in the face of our responsibility to find permanent families and safe, loving homes for every child.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Putting a price on equality

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A new report released today (Wednesday, March 25) by Equality Means Business, a coalition of major employers in Florida, claims that anti-LGBT policies and laws costs employers in the state more than $362 million a year.

The report includes interviews with a number of top executives from national companies based in Florida and it links business leaders’ concerns over the state’s ability to compete with hard dollar losses in productivity and employee turnover, according to a statement from Equality Florida.

Other key findings include:

• Business executives cite Florida’s reputation as being hostile to diversity among their chief challenges in attracting and retaining talent.

• More than 60 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees and more than 80 percent of transgender employees in Florida report having experienced discrimination in the workplace.

• Top executives recognize that the top talent among the Millenials generation values diversity and inclusion, making nondiscrimination protections a must-have.

Many of the business executives intervewed said they believe their businesses actually suffered because of Florida’s reputation for being hostile to LGBTs and others. And most of those participating said they see non-discrimination protections as non-negotiable, common sense practices critical to attracting and attaining the best and the brightest employees.

Nadine Smith, co-founder and CEO of Equality Florida, which convened the Equality Means Business coalition, said the report shows that it is “clearly in the state’s interest to provide equal protection for all employees.”

There is a new, similar organization getting off the ground here in the Lone Star State, called Texas Competes, a “partnership of business leaders committed to a Texas that is economically vibrant and welcoming of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

The purpose of Texas Competes is to prove that “fair treatment for gay and transgender people isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good for businesses, too.”

That’s a very important lesson that the Texas Legislature needs to learn, considering all the truly nasty anti-LGBT bills lawmakers are currently considering in Austin.

—  Tammye Nash

Florida House votes to remove gay and lesbian adoption ban

Rick Scott

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Florida was one of the few places that has an outright ban on adoption by gays and lesbians. Now the Florida House has passed a bill to remove that language, which was added in 1977, according to Associated Press.

The ban on gay and lesbian adoption was declared unconstitutional five years ago, and gays and lesbians have been allowed to adopt since then. This would simply clean up the state law, although the legislature had been reluctant to do so in the past.

No Republicans spoke against the amendment, although some voted against it. Some said they didn’t support adoption by gays and lesbians, but were voting for the amendment so the law reflected court rulings and policy.

In Texas, the state sodomy law has been unconstitutional since the 2003 Lawrence v Texas decision. Each legislative session since then, a bill to remove language that has been declared unconstitutional has failed to pass the Texas Legislature, so the law doesn’t reflect actual policy or court rulings.

People have been detained based on the unconstitutional law since then.

In the case of unconstitutional laws remaining on the books, misreading the Florida adoption law could delay an adoption and increase costs for no reason other than bigotry against those trying to adopt.

The bill still has to pass the Florida Senate and be signed by anti-gay Gov. Rick Scott.

—  David Taffet

MORONS MAKE LAWS: Fla. Dept. Environmental Protection not allowed to say ‘climate change’

Rick Scott

Fla. Gov. Rick Scott

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office declined comment, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s press secretary claims there was no policy on it. But according to four former employees, the department did, indeed, have in place a policy prohibiting use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in official communications, emails or reports, according to the Miami Herald.

The policy went into effect soon after Scott was first elected to office four years ago. He was re-elected in 2014.

Florida is the state most susceptible to the effects of global warming. In all predictions of rising ocean levels caused by melting polar ice, Florida completely disappears under water.

At the tip of Florida, Key West’s highest point is three feet above sea level. Britton Hill, at 345 feet above sea level and located in the panhandle on the Georgia border, is the lowest high point of any of the 50 states.

—  David Taffet

11th Circuit court puts Florida appeals on hold

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals today put appeals of two Florida marriage equality rulings on hold pending the outcome of upcoming hearings gavelbefore the U.S. Supreme Court on similar marriage equality cases appealed from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals:

“Pursuant to the court’s direction, the appeals …  are held in abeyance pending the United States Supreme Court’s issuance of an opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder … . Any other current or future appeals that are filed in this court raising the same or similar issues as the appeals listed above will also be held in abeyance pending the Supreme Court’s issuance of an opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder. Within twenty-one (21) days of the date the Supreme Court issues its opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder, the parties are directed to notify this court in writing what issues, if any, remain pending in these appeals.”

Same-sex marriages began in Florida on Jan. 5 when Miami Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifted the stay she had imposed on her earlier ruling in state court striking down Florida’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Zabel lifted the stay on her ruling the day before the stay on a federal district court case ruling that also declared the ban unconstitutional was to have expired. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi had asked  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to extend the stay on U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling, but Thomas refused.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals on marriage cases from other federal circuit courts, all of whom had ruled in favor of marriage equality. In January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals on four marriage equality cases out of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the only federal appellate court to rule against marriage equality since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision in U.S. v Windsor striking down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hold hearings on the 6th Circuit causes in April and to deliver a decision in June.

—  Tammye Nash

Congrats to Amy and Kelly — and all the other Florida newlyweds

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Florida newlyweds Amy and Kelly

My friends Amy and Kelly were among the 30 Florida couples tapped to receive their marriage license immediately after midnight Jan. 5 — so, on Jan. 6 — when the stay expired on Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling declaring the Florida marriage equality ban unconstitutional. Because of legal wrangling over to whom Hinkle’s order applied, the Orlando county clerk guaranteed only 30 marriage licenses at first.

As it turned out, the stay on a second pro-marriage-equality ruling was lifted on Jan. 5, and Hinkle issued an order making it clear that his ruling applied to everyone in every Florida county. So Amy and Kelly and the other 29 couples were not the first to get their licenses and exchange vows. But that didn’t make their ceremony any less touching and wonderful.

The CENTER — LGBT Community Center of Central Florida hosted a wedding for the 30 couples getting their licenses Jan. 6 in Orlando, and as Amy said on Facebook, she and Kelly never expected to be able to get married in such style. She has given me permission to share this photo of them, above, and this video, below, of the mass wedding. In the video, Amy and Kelly are the first couple in the procession, and they are both wearing white.

So congrats, Amy and Kelly, and all the other happy couples in Florida. I can’t wait til Texas gets on the bandwagon and my spouse and I get to make it legal.

—  Tammye Nash

First Florida marriage license issued; couples marrying now

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Plaintiff couples in Pareto v. Ruvin are, from left, Todd and Jeffrey Delmay, Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, and Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz. Pareto and Arguello received the first marriage license issued to a same-sex couple in Florida.

Karla Arguello and Cathy Pareto, one of six plaintiff couples in the marriage equality case Pareto v. Ruvin, today became the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Florida.

The two applied for the license this morning (Monday, Jan. 5), as soon as Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifted her stay of her own ruling in the case, in which she declared the Florida marriage equality ban unconstitutional.

Judge Zabel has agreed to marry the plaintiff couples who wish to marry today, including Arguello and Pareto, and Jeff and Todd Delmay.

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, Elizabeth F. Schwartz, Mary B. Meeks, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

—  Tammye Nash

Judge rules all Florida county clerks must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

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Judge Robert Hinkle

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle today issued a ruling stating that all Florida county clerks must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Hinkle ruled last August that Florida’s ban on legally recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Hinkle was ruling in two cases — one brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on behalf of eight couples, a Fort Myers widow, and SAVE, South Florida’s largest LGBT rights organization; the other by Jacksonville attorneys William Sheppard and Sam Jacobson on behalf of two couples.

Hinkle stayed his own ruling pending appeals. That stay was set to expire at midnight on Jan. 5, and when the U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to extend that stay, it cleared the way for same-sex marriages to begin in Florida on Tuesday, Jan. 6.

Some county clerks, however, said they would not issue licenses to same-sex couples because Hinkle’s ruling applied only to the Washington County clerk of court, who was named as a defendant in the case. The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers released a legal memo earlier in December that Hinkle’s ruling only applied to marriage licenses issued by the clerk in Washington County and did not open the door for clerks in other parts of the state to issue licenses to same-sex couples and that clerks could face prosecution if they do so.

The Washington County clerk at the time the lawsuit was filed was Harold Bazzel. Bazzel was replaced by Lora Bell, elected in November, and Bell had asked Hinkle for a clarification on his ruling.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Hinkle wrote: “Reasonable people can debate whether [his August ruling] was correct and who it binds. There should be no debate, however, on the question whether a clerk of court may follow the ruling, even for marriage-license applicants who are not parties to this case.”

Hinkle warned that clerks who refuse to issue licenses to gay couples should “take note” that they are essentially inviting lawsuits and legal fees, he said, adding, “History records no shortage of instances when state officials defied federal court orders on issues of federal constitutional law. Happily, there are many more instances when responsible officials followed the law, like it or not.”

After Hinkle issued his clarification today (Jan. 1), ACLU of Florida LGBT Rights Staff Attorney Daniel Tilley said, “Clerks who were waiting for clarification from the court as to their obligations now have that clarity and should prepare to issue marriage licenses to couples in their counties waiting to marry as soon as the stay expires.”

He added, “We expect all clerks to respect the ruling.  But if not, we are committed to ensuring marriage equality in all 67 counties in Florida and we would like to hear from any couples that are wrongfully denied a license after the stay expires.”

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has battled marriage equality every step of the way, issued a written statement today saying that her office, which has defended the state’s same-sex marriage ban, would not “stand in the way as clerks of court determine how to proceed.”

Read Hinkle’s order issued today here.

—  Tammye Nash

This week in marriage equality

marriage-scales-of-justiceIndiana:

A federal judge ruled that Indiana must recognize out-of-state marriages, the last of the five marriage equality cases in Indiana that had not received a ruling. All five cases struck down any ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling is stayed pending appeal. Read more here.

Idaho:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Idaho’s request to appeal en banc (or before all of the court’s judges) a recent ruling overturning the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The case Latta v. Otter (otter–heehee!) was brought before the district court Judge Candy Dale this year by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and private attorneys. Dale ruled in their favor. Of note: the case will be heard concurrently with cases from Nevada and Hawaii, which also follow under the ninth court’s jurisdiction.

Florida:

Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional today for a fifth time. The difference is that this time, a U.S. District Court made the ruling, so it applies to the entire state. The previous four rulings were in county courts and those rulings applied only to those counties. The ruling is stayed pending appeal.

Department of Veterans Affairs:

Curve ball! The VA isn’t a state, but it’s being sued over not recognizing the partners of veterans in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage. The case AMPA v. McDonald was brought by Lambda Legal and others, was filed on behalf of the American Military Partner Association.

Australia:

Waaaaaaay down south, Australia’s senate is considering a bill that would permit the country to realize recognition of foreign same-sex marriages, including Aussie couples who marry abroad. A recent ruling in their high court ruled that only Parliament could enact same-sex marriage.

—  James Russell