The Families at the Center of the Forida Lawsuit

As a result of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal of an 11th Circuit ruling that upheld Florida’s categorical ban on gay and lesbian parents legally adopting children, the three families at the center of the case will remain in a legal limbo—which in some cases goes back more than a dozen years—until each of the children in question becomes an adult.

Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau are a gay couple, who now live in Portland, Oregon, and have during the past 15 years served as foster parents to five children—each of whom came to them as HIV-positive infants. The three oldest children—Frank and Tracy, now both 17, and Bert, who is 13—came to Lofton and Croteau through the Florida foster care system. Because of that state’s ban on gay adoption, the couple has been thwarted in their goal of legally adopting the three children, who theoretically could be taken away from them at any time if Florida officials found adoptive parents for them.

Lofton and Croteau became foster parents to the two younger children, Wayne, who is 11, and Ernie, who is 8, through Oregon’s foster care system. Since that state does not bar gay adoption, the same uncertainty over the status of those children in the family’s home does not exist.

During his infancy, Bert experienced what some percentage of HIV-positive babies undergo—a seroconversion to a virus-free status. As a result, the prospect that he might be adopted by parents legally recognized to do so in Florida increased, though as he gets older, as with any child up for adoption, that risk to the stability of the Lofton-Croteau household has declined. Still, the parents have been unable to achieve the full legal protections they would like to give the children they have cared for since infancy.

Wayne Smith and Daniel Skahen are a Key West couple who are raising two young foster children whose names they have chosen not to identify publicly, given the widespread publicity their case has generated. The couple was successful at securing a unique ruling from a Florida judge that has given them what Paul Cates, a spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), described as a quasi-permanent foster care relationship. Their other child is not similarly protected, and like the Lofton-Croteaus, they would like to give both of their children full legal adoption status.

Doug Houghton is a gay man who lives in Miami and has been raising 11-year-old Oscar for the past nine years. In 1996, Oscar’s father initiated a legal agreement making Houghton Oscar’s legal guardian. Oscar continues visits with his father and his grandparents, all of whom support the relationship the boy has with Houghton. However, according to the ACLU’s website, in entering the lawsuit against the state of Florida as a plaintiff, Houghton said, “As Oscar grows up, I want him to know I’m his daddy. Legal guardianship isn’t a solid foundation for a real relationship. I have an intangible fear that someone’s going to take him away from me.”

The Supreme Court’s refusal this week to reconsider the ACLU lawsuit means that Houghton and Oscar’s anxieties will not be assuaged at least in the near term.

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