Gay Rights Setback: Court Sidesteps Adoption Issue
Warren Richey writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Less than two years after handing down an important decision expanding the rights of gays and lesbians and helping to kindle a national debate over gay marriage, the US Supreme Court has declined to take up a case challenging the State of Florida's ban on adoption by homosexuals.
Instead, the nation's highest court Monday let stand a January 2004 opinion by a federal appeals court in Atlanta that upholds the Florida law.
The announcement marks a setback for gay rights activists who were hopeful that the legal landscape may have shifted in a fundamental way in the wake of the court's 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. In that decision, it struck down a Texas law that made sodomy a crime for homosexuals but not heterosexuals.
Five months after the Lawrence decision, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts cited it while ruling that there was a state constitutional right to gay marriage in Massachusetts. Liberals praised that decision as a civil rights landmark. Conservatives - including President Bush - denounced it as judicial activism.
The justices did not explain why they decided not to hear the Florida appeal. But some analysts say the outcome suggests that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote in gay rights cases, may have been worried about the broader implications of taking up the case.
"It is not only about gays and lesbians as parents, it is about the children," says Barbara Bennett Woodhouse of the Center on Children and Families at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "The impact on waiting children who haven't found adoptive homes is extremely detrimental."
Florida is the only state banning gay adoption, but lawmakers in several others are debating similar measures. Twenty-two states explicitly permit gays and lesbians to adopt.
The Florida case was important, in part, because it would once again have placed the high court at the center of a raging culture war over gay rights.
The Florida ban on homosexual adoption was passed in 1977 amid an antigay campaign waged by former beauty queen Anita Bryant. …