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Dennis Baxley on why he reversed his vote on gay adoption: ‘I simply can’t affirm homosexuality’

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Speaking to talk-show host Bill Bunkley on Tuesday afternoon, Ocala House Republican Dennis Baxley stood by his decision to reverse his vote on a bill that would provide incentives to state workers who adopt children from foster care — while also repealing part of state law that in the past banned same-sex couples from adopting.

“If you get it wrong you need to own it and you need to seek forgiveness, and that’s where I’ve been with this,” Baxley told WTBN 570 AM in Tampa, explaining how he initially supported the bill before changing his vote 48 hours later. Baxley himself is the father of two adopted children, and said that he thought the bill as initially written was “fantastic.”

Baxley’s flip flop on the gay adoption vote has led to criticism from both gay rights advocates and social conservatives who were surprised that the one-time head of the Florida chapter of the Christian Coalition could support the proposal.

On Tuesday, Baxley emphasized to Bunkley that he doesn’t “hate anybody.”

“I don’t want to discriminate on somebody. I’m not phobic, but I simply can’t affirm homosexuality. My compass won’t go there, knowing what I know biblically. And so I ask people to please understand the circumstances.”

The amendment on gay adoption was introduced by Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson, and passed on a voice vote. The overall vote on the adoption bill passed on a 68-50 vote on a Wednesday morning. Baxley has previously discussed how he awoke the following morning realizing that he made a mistake. He also spoke with John Stemberger with the Florida Family Council, who had criticized lawmakers who supported the bill. Baxley told Stemberger he would change his vote, and did so on that Friday evening.

“By morning it was really clear that great adoption bill that we wanted to pass had really become the gay bill, and at that point it was an affirmation of homosexuality for which many of us under our biblical teachings simply can’t be there,” he said.

Florida’s 1977 original law banning gay adoption was repealed in a district court back in 2010, and same-sex couples have been able to adopt ever since then. The Richardson amendment simply would put that fact into state statute.

Baxley says in retrospect, his greatest “sin” was his “resignation that we had lost this (issue) in the courts.”

“I could save some kids,” he acknowledged. “But that rationale breaks down in the bigger picture.”

Concurrently a “Conscience Protection” clause for Florida faith-based adoption and foster care agencies has emerged in the House. Its purpose is to protect child-placement agencies from being required to violate their “religious or moral convictions.”

“We have these in medicines — you don’t have to do abortions if it violates your conscience,” Baxley told Bunkley, who as the head of the Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has testified in committee for its passage. “If adoption agencies are faith-based and they could simply not be in harmony with their mission and their understanding of who they are to arrange homosexual adoptions, than they are going to have to get out of that business and have in some cases,” Baxley said.

Advocates for the conscience protection haven’t cited any Florida adoption agencies going out of business, however. Randy Osborne with the Florida Eagle Forum said during a recent House committee hearing on the issue that organizations in Massachusetts, Illinois and California have closed because legislation in those states did not provide a conscience clause.

Daniel Tilley, an attorney with the Florida ACLU, has said that the new law being pushed in the House is unconstitutional. “The state can’t use religious criteria to place children in state custody,” he told Florida Politics. “And since the state can’t do that itself, the folks that they hire to do the government’s job can’t do that either. So these child placement agencies cannot allow either religious or moral or other criteria to supersede the best interests of the child.”

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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