Achieving LGBT Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

Case Summary & History

Family & Relationships

Case: Florida Department of Children and Families v. M.J.H.

STATUS: Victory, Florida

V.A., a lesbian who lives in Florida with her partner, has been raising a baby boy, E.L.A., since nine days after he was born. He was placed with V.A. in part because she is a relative. After Florida’s Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) terminated the parental rights of E.L.A.’s birth mother, V.A. applied to adopt E.L.A. During a hearing to determine whether the adoption was in E.L.A.’s best interests, V.A.’s partner, family members, friends, E.L.A.’s pre-school administrator, a child psychologist, and the Guardian Ad Litem for E.L.A. all testified that V.A. was an excellent and loving mother and that the adoption would be in E.L.A.’s best interests. Two home studies also resulted in recommendations in favor of the adoption.

However, DCF withheld its consent to the adoption solely on the grounds that V.A. is a lesbian, because Florida law prohibits “homosexuals” from adopting. The trial court granted V.A’s adoption of E.L.A., holding that Florida’s adoption ban violates the Florida constitution. DCF appealed that decision.

V.A. is represented by Florida attorneys Alan Mishael and Elizabeth F. Schwartz. With the pro bono assistance of Cristina Alonso at the law firm of Carlton Fields, on July 14, 2010, NCLR submitted an amicus brief to the Court of Appeal explaining the historical context of the adoption ban which was passed in 1977 in the context of a hateful anti- gay campaign led by Anita Bryant and demonstrating that the ban unfairly targets lesbian, gay, and bisexual people by singling them out as unfit to serve as adoptive parents, while allowing all other groups individualized consideration. The brief argues that the law is unconstitutional under the Florida constitution’s prohibitions of bills of attainder and special laws, as well as its requirement of equal protection. On September 22, 2010, the Court of Appeals decided another pending appeal of an adoption granted to a gay man. In that decision, Florida Department of Children and Families v. In re: Matter of Adoption of X.X.G. and N.R.G., the Court held that the anti-gay adoption ban was unconstitutional because it violated the equal protection rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in Florida.

On October 28, 2010, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision in this case allowing V.A. to adopt E.L.A.

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