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Florida Senate panel postpones vote on gay adoption ban

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In Tallahassee this afternoon, a Senate committee postponed a vote on a controversial bill that would allow private adoption agencies in Florida to be able to turn away same-sex couples based on religious and moral beliefs.

The fate of the legislation is now in question. Chairman David Simmons said he would confer with Senate President Andy Gardiner on what to do next with the measure, which passed the entire House of Representatives earlier this month.

The Conscience Protection for Actions of Private Child-Placing Agencies bill (SB 7111) was introduced in the House by Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur this session in response to the House voting to repeal the state statute that banned gay adoptions in the state. Gay adoptions have been legal in Florida since 2010, after the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that the 1977 ban on same-sex adoption was unconstitutional.

Last week the entire Senate rejected an attempt to remove the gay-adoption provision from a larger bill on adoption, prompting critics like Brandon state Sen. Tom Lee to say that the topic should have been handled as a stand-alone piece of legislation, rather than a House amendment to the adoption-incentive package. That’s how it ended up in the Senate Rules Committee today.

As has been the case all legislative session, proponents and opponents of the bill came to speak for or against the bill, in this case for over an hour and a half before time ran out of the committee hearing, which lasted a total of four hours.

Clearwater state Sen. Jack Latvala asked supporters of the bill why the sudden urge to have such legislation passed, since gay adoption has essentially been the law of the land in Florida for the past five years?

“The climate in America has changed,” said Pam Olsen with the Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council, on why there needs to be a new law. “We’re in a time and season when religious liberties is coming under attack.”

Other supporters said that the law was needed to provide religious protection for agencies that have a moral issue with allowing same-sex couples to adopt.

“We ought to be able to practice our religious freedoms,” said Dr. Jerry Haig, with the Florida Baptist Children’s Home. He said that the “climate of litigation” is what’s driving the need for a bill to protect private adoption agencies. And he said his group should be allowed its religious freedom when asked by Orlando Democrat Darren Soto if he should be able to accept state taxpayer money while denying gay couples from adopting.

“This bill sanctions state-sponsored discrimination,” countered Amy Katz with the National Council of Jewish Women.

Last week a variety of children’s groups, such as the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI), North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) and Voice for Adoption (VFA) all spoke out against the bill. “We firmly stand against any federal, state, or agency laws or policies that prohibit or discriminate against any qualified individuals and couples from becoming parents due to philosophical or religious beliefs,” the groups announced in a joint statement.

The debate took place just a week before the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a landmark case on gay marriage. But in a nationwide USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll, those surveyed say by 5 percent-35 percent that it’s no longer practical for the Supreme Court to ban same-sex marriages because so many states have legalized them.

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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