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Christian conservatives put faith in Senate after Florida House votes to repeal ban on gay adoption

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The conservative-leaning Florida House today voted to support an amendment to a bill that removes a ban on gay adoption from state law. The final vote was 68-50. The amendment is part of a larger bill that creates incentives for Floridians to adopt children in state care.

The vote came despite a last hour pitch against it by a number of Christian conservatives like John Stemberger, who urged his members in a mass email to stop what he called the “ram-rodded” amendment being approved by the Republican leadership.

For decades, Florida law banned gays from adopting. But in September of 2010, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal held that law was unconstitutional. Since then, state officials have declined to enforce the ban, but it has remained in Florida Statutes.

Among those who supported the bill was Miami Republican Frank Artiles, whose legislation to bar trans people from using the public bathroom of their true gender has made him the subject of mockery and scorn across the country in certain circles. “In the last couple of weeks I’ve been called a lot of names. Horrible names,” Artiles began, after he told other House members to quiet down as he began to speak. “I’ve been called a homophobe; I’ve been called a transphobe; and some I won’t even repeat in this hallowed chamber.”

But he said the name he was most proud of, he said, was father. And that’s why he was supporting the legislation. He said the previous law that banned gays from adopting children was “wrong.”

“Not only is it unfair to these couples who want a better life for a child in need, and become parents, but it hurts those children who want and need a stable and loving home, and loving parents,” he said.

Another social conservative, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, also came out in support of the amendment, but not without telling his colleagues about his angst in coming to that conclusion. He said it was one of the toughest votes he’s made since being an elected official.

“This is not a gay adoption bill,” he said, though he maintained that “God’s design was for a child to have a mother and a father.”

He said it was the first bill in a long time to go through the Legislature that would give kids the chance to enter a family. “And that matters to me.”

“This bill is about creating new families, creating opportunities for children to move out of foster care,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Darryl Rouson. “This bill will promote safety and healthy adoptions, and promote positive post-adoption outcomes.”

But some Christian conservatives aren’t giving up the fight.

“Regardless of the immediate outcome in the Florida House, let’s not forget that there is a separate chamber, the Florida Senate, who is still working on their version of this comprehensive package,” said Bill Bunkley, president of Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

And Matthew Staver from the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, told the Christian Examiner that anyone who votes for the bill should be removed from office.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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