Florida turmoil over campaign to repeal same-sex adoption ban  

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The Independent US

With help from one of America's most popular television personalities, gay rights activists and child advocacy groups have launched a campaign to force Florida to scrap a law that forbids same-sex parents from adopting children.

A long-simmering debate over the 1978 law barring gays from becoming adoptive parents has come under the national spotlight thanks to the sudden intervention of Rosie O'Donnell, an actress and TV show host, who came out as a lesbian this week.

At the centre of the battle is the case of Roger Croteau and Steven Lofton, former residents of Miami, who have been trying to adopt a 10-year-old boy they have fostered since he was an infant. The boy, Bert, was born to an HIV-positive mother, who has since died, although he has tested negative.

The campaign, which is being promoted by the American Civil Liberties Union, now threatens to intrude on this year's election for Florida's Governor. Jeb Bush, who holds the office, has so far kept quiet on the subject, which is seen by some to mean he favours the law. His Democrat opponent, Janet Reno, wants it lifted. Florida is the only American state to forbid gays from adopting. Nadine Smith, of Equality Florida, said: "It's time for leadership to end the harm inflicted by this mean-spirited law."

Ms O'Donnell staged her coming-out with a prime-time interview on ABC television on Thursday. She said she was moved to reveal her sexuality in part because of her disdain for the Florida law.

"I'm saying it now because I want people to know that I'm the kind of parent the state of Florida ... thinks is unworthy, and it's wrong," she said. The entertainer and her long-time partner, a television producer, share a home in Florida and have three adopted children. They were able to adopt because they also have a home in New York.

Conservative forces in Florida are meanwhile preparing to prevent the overturning of the law. Anthony Verdugo, of the Miami branch of the Christian Coalition, said: "We support the ban because the best environment for a child is to be raised by a mother and a father."

Mr Croteau and Mr Lofton had their request to adopt the boy formally rejected by the state last year. The couple, who have since moved to Oregon, are appealing.

The couple's lawyer, Leslie Cooper said the law "brands gays and lesbians as unfit parents. I can't think of a more offensive form of discrimination."

Ms Reno, who stands against Mr Bush, the brother of President George Bush, this November, favours dealing with every gay adoption request case by case.

Meanwhile, 12 former state representatives who were among those who introduced the law apologised last week and said it should be repealed.