A nearly four-decade-old law banning gays from adopting children, which hasn't been enforced in five years, will come off Florida's books July 1, but Gov. Rick Scott still wants private, religious-based adoption agencies to be able to turn gay couples away.
Scott signed a bill Thursday that removes the adoption ban enacted in the days when entertainer Anita Bryant crusaded against gays. It is part of a larger bill that promotes adoption, and striking the language simply reflects reality after a judge found the ban unconstitutional five years ago.
"This is incredibly personal for me because I was just a young man when Anita Bryant was pursuing her actions against the gay community," said Rep. David Richardson, Florida's first openly gay lawmaker and the Miami Beach Democrat who amended the adoption bill to remove the gay ban. "It was very disturbing to me to watch it and to see how much hate was being promoted."
But Thursday he was celebrating.
"Who would have guessed I would be the one here to repeal a law that so personally affected me?" he said.
Still, some conservative Republicans strongly opposed removing the ban from law, saying there were still legal avenues available that could allow it to be enforced. There was also a failed effort to separately protect private adoption agencies to refuse to help gays adopt based on religious and moral grounds. Scott wants lawmakers to take it up again during their next regular session in January.
"Florida's laws must protect the free exercise of religious liberty and faith while protecting Floridians from illegal discrimination. These are not, and never should be, mutually exclusive pursuits," Scott wrote in a letter explaining his decision to sign the bill.
The president of the group that led the effort to put a gay marriage ban in the state constitution, which has since been declared unconstitutional, said he was disappointed Scott signed the bill.
"The most disturbing part about it is the decision is unprincipled capitulation of the rule of law," said John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council, who added that challenge to the ban never had a hearing before the state Supreme Court.
The bill signing came on the same day Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill that allows faith-based adoption agencies to turn away gays who want to adopt.
Florida gay rights advocates applauded Scott's action.
"We are thrilled that this ugly chapter in Florida's history has been closed for good. Thousands upon thousands of children live with the security and permanency of a forever home because the courts struck down the ban. Now the lingering insult has been erased as well," said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida.