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Monday, January 31, 2011

Fla. Official: Bring Back Gay Adoption Ban

By Kilian Melloy -

Dean Cannon
Dean Cannon
The story of Florida’s gay adoption ban is something of a saga, featuring families, politics, and a paid witness whose hostile-to-gays testimony failed to sway the court--and who later hit the headlines for hiring a young male escort to accompany him on a European vacation. In the end, the state’s supreme court ruled in favor of GLBT families. Now a state lawmaker is calling for the return of the anti-gay adoption ban.

Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon told the Florida Baptist Witness that the state’s newly-elected governor should ensure that the ban is kept in force, the court’s verdict notwithstanding. Cannon’s interview with the publication took place on Jan. 20.

The article noted that Cannon belongs to a Baptist congregation in Winter Park, Fla., and said that Cannon became a born-again Christian in college after listening to Christian radio.

"The tactical calculus," Cannon told the publication, "is [that] to make a change" regarding the state’s anti-gay adoption ban "would almost imply that you agree that there was some flaw identified by the Third [District Court of Appeal," the court that ruled against the ban in 2010.

"Because that [verdict applies] just in one district, it may make sense to wait and see if that Third DCA opinion is eventually brought up with another case and either overturned or affirmed by the Supreme Court," Cannon added. "Until we know how the governor and DCF secretary are going to apply it, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the Legislature should step in." However, Cannon continued, "If we think we should, we’re certainly prepared and willing to do so."

The article noted that the state’s Third District Court of Appeal confirmed a ruling from two years before that stated there was "no rational basis" to deny gay and lesbian prospective parents the opportunity to adopt children. The ban has been in place for 33 years.

One paid "expert witness" who was called in during the state’s legal wrangle was George Rekers, co-founder of the anti-gay Family Research Council. Rekers had previously served as a paid expert witness for the state in a similar court case in Arkansas. The state lost the case; moreover, Judge Timothy Fox called Rekers’ testimony "pointless."

Rekers reportedly appeared as a witness on the recommendation of then-State AG Bill McCollum. Rekers raked in a reported $120,000 of taxpayer money during 2007 and 2008 for his testimony. In the end, the court ruled against the state, with Judge Cindy Lederman ruling in late 2008 that the ban was unconstitutional. Lederman cited Rekers’ testimony specifically in her ruling, calling it neither "credible nor worthy of forming the basis for public policy," and saying that Rekers’ testimony had been "motivated by his strong ideological and theological convictions that are not consistent with the science."

McCollum fired back in kind, slamming Lederman’s decision as "arbitrary" and accusing the court of having "entirely discredited [Rekers] based on his religion."

When headlines broke last year that Rekers had hired a 20-year-old male escort through to serve as a traveling companion on a European vacation, McCollum appeared to back away from support for the man who had once served as an expert witness on why gays and lesbians were unfit to parent children in need of secure and loving homes.

The Rekers scandal may put a pall on so-called "expert testimony" used against gays in courtrooms where cases involving family parity are underway. Indeed, though Rekers did not testify in the court challenge to California’s anti-gay voter initiative Proposition 8, his testimony from an earlier case in another state was still cited, the New York Times reported in a May 18, 2010, article.

The Florida Baptist Witness recounted that Florida’s then-governor, Charlie Crist, ordered that the ban stopped being enforced after the state’s supreme court upheld Lederman’s 2008 ruling. For his part, McCollum did not appeal the ruling.

Then Gov. Scott appointed a board member of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, David Wilkins, to take over as head of the state’s Department of Children and Families, the Florida Baptist Witness article said, prompting fears that the newly named official’s affiliation with the religious group could translate into a renewed push to keep the ban in place.

Cannon indicated that he would welcome such a push against gay and lesbian family equality, telling the Florida Baptist Witness that he "Absolutely" thought Gov. Scott should order the ban to be imposed once again.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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