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Florida House approves law to allow private agencies to turn away gay couples from adopting

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The Florida House on Thursday passed a measure that would let private agencies that cite religious or moral grounds to turn away gay couples seeking to adopt children.

By a 75-38 vote, HB 7111, sponsored by Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur, was passed. Brodeur proposed the legislation only after the House voted last month to repeal the state’s 38-year-old ban on same-sex adoptions from state statute, though gay adoption has been legal since the courts ruled the ban unconstitutional back in 2010.

The vote was condemned by the LGBT rights group, Equality Florida.

Thursday’s House vote sends an ugly message about Florida, whether it becomes law or not,” said Nadine Smith, chief executive the advocacy group. “As other states such as Indiana have learned, discriminatory laws under the false guise of religious freedom are widely criticized. They are unfair and unjust, and they also hurt a state’s economy.

The arguments were less heated than from the day before, but more intense.

“Have we forgotten what our heritage is?” whispered Brandon Republican Ross Spano in dramatic tones. “Have we forgotten the legacy that’s been given to us? Or are still willing to hold steady and steadfast?”

“I know these good people, and I know their hearts, there is no intent to discriminate, there is no intent to do any harm, there is only intent to do good,” Spano insisted, gesturing dramatically as he spoke of private adoption agencies who may object to placing a foster child with a gay couple. “We should be encouraging these agencies, not forcing them to choose.”

Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley drew attention to himself earlier in the session when he voted for the amendment that repealed the ban on gay adoption, and then reversed himself some 48 hours later.

“We have 8 grandchildren, and I don’t know what kind of world we’re giving them,” Baxley bemoaned in explaining the angst he felt on supporting the dilemma to him of gay adoption.

But Democrats were equal in their passion against the Brodeur bill.

St. Petersburg Democrat Daryl Rouson said with all of the talk about religious freedom, he noted that “if we search over the last 1,000 years, all of the atrocities made in the name of religion, we ought to be really concerned.”

Rouson added, “Is it truly, sincerely, held religious beliefs that are about to commit an atrocity? Or is it subterfuge, to create a way that government sanctions and condones continued discrimination against our fellow man?”

Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson is the representative whose amendment calling for the repeal of the ban on gay adoption on the state books led directly to the “conscience protection” bill that has roiled the Legislature this spring.

Richardson said he remembered as a young man watching Anita Bryant “stand up and rail against the gay community” after the Miami-Dade County Commission passed a human rights ordinance that included the LGBT community. “I remember feeling alone and how the world must hate me while few people knew who I was at that time, and I thought it’s going to be a difficult life.”

He expressed incredulity that he would be the person 38 years later who as a member of the Florida House would sponsor the bill to repeal that ban.

He said the Republicans battle in 2015 is not vs. the gay community or Democrats, but between themselves, referring to how the GOP on a national basis is coping with changing social mores in the culture.

At the end Brodeur finished the discussion by saying the arguments against his proposal were “absurd.” He said the debate had been all about adults, not about the children.

However good they may feel about the bill, the fact is the vote was largely symbolic. That’s because the Senate rejected amendments on Wednesday filed by Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargell that would provide similar “conscience protections” for faith-based groups.

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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