Although the vote by the Florida House of Representatives last week to repeal Florida’s 38-year ban on gay adoption was hardly overwhelming, there was little open dissent on the House floor, with only a handful of lawmakers even discussing the legislation before voting on it.
Among those who did so movingly was Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, one of the most socially conservative members of the Legislature. Baxley spent several minutes on the floor describing what he called “one of the toughest votes” he had made in his career, adding that the decision to support it came only staying up all night praying and thinking about it. “I believe every child deserves a mother and a father,” he said. But “today I am looking at a bill that helps a child find a home.”
It’s also a bill that he no longer supports.
As the website for the Florida House of Representatives, Baxley officially changed his “Yay” to a “Nay” on Friday night at 6:22 p.m.
“What it has done is put me in the position of affirming homosexual adoption, and that’s not where I am,” Baxley told Florida Politics early Sunday afternoon.
Since 1977, Florida law has banned same-sex couples 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.
Baxley said that he’s convinced the cause has been lost because of the court ruling, but he realized on Thursday morning that his vote in support of the amendment doesn’t work for his personal conscience or convictions.
Support for the amendment has enraged social conservatives in Florida, who are determined to stop its passage in the Senate. The amendment was attached to a larger bill that creates incentives for Floridians to adopt children in state care.
Matthew Staver from the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, told the Christian Examiner that anyone who voted for the bill should be removed from office.
And after the vote on Wednesday, John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, tweeted, “Funny whenever gays are involved the centuries old best interest of children legal standard is completely ignored @MyFLHouse @FLGOPMajority.”
Baxley said he apologized to Stemberger, who then informed his followers on Twitter on Friday that Baxley was going to reverse his vote.
“Just spoke with @DennisBaxley. Said he made a huge mistake in voting for gay adoption bill HB7013. He’s changing his vote. #StilltheNorthStar,” Stemberger tweeted on Friday afternoon.
Baxley has adopted children himself, and calls the overall adoption bill “great.” But he says that it then became a “gay adoption bill,” and says upon reflection and “moral clarity,” he could no longer support it.
Nadine Smith, the head of Equality Florida, said that the last time she sat down with Rep. Baxley, he gave her a book that focused on finding common ground despite their vastly different perspectives.
“I appreciated the gesture, and when I heard him speak before voting to strike anti-gay language from the adoption statute I thought perhaps he had absorbed some of the wisdom he had shared with me,” Smith writes in an email. “I was disappointed to see him scramble back from a place of moral courage to a place of political comfort. I hope he finds that courageous path forward again soon.”
Baxter announced last fall that he would be running for the state Senate District 5 seat currently being held by Inverness Republican Charlie Dean, who is term-limited next year. Baxley served in the Florida House from 2000 to 2007, before losing a bid for the state Senate. He then took over leading the Christian Coalition for 18 months, before returning to the Florida House in 2010.
The Senate companion bill to the legislation passed last week, SB 320, does not include the gay adoption language, but would allow adopted children to be homeschooled. It has passed its committee stops and is awaiting a Senate vote.