Gay South Florida Man Settles with DCF on Subsidies

02/10/10 Arielle Stevenson
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Yesterday, the Florida Department of Children and Families agreed to assist a gay south Florida man in defraying the costs of raising his adopted son.

Wayne LaRue Smith fostered his son since 2001. In 2006, he was granted plenary guardianship and two years later Smith legally adopted him. But Smith was then denied access to subsidies for the child, such as college tuition and Medicaid. Those subsidies are provided to other children adopted from state care but were denied to Smith on the grounds that his son was not under the care of the state at the time of the adoption. Smith and DCF settled yesterday.

Brian Winfield, Communications Director at Equality Florida says the settlement shows progress for gay and lesbian rights in the state.

I think that the decision by DCF really boils down to this: moving forward they are going to help a family who adopted a child, raise that child-- and it happens to be a gay man who did that. DCF from here on going forward is going to help a gay man raise his child-- and that speaks volumes.

According to the Miami Herald, David Audlin is the Monroe Circuit Judge that granted Smith his son’s adoption and declared that the Florida law banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. In the state of Florida, gays and lesbians can be licensed only as foster parents.

Joe Follick is the head of communications for the state’s Department of Children and Families. Follick says the department’s decision wasn’t about gay adoption.

The issue of gay adoption is still obviously a matter of, there is a still an existing law suit on that. So due to that reason, we try not to comment as the judicial process works its way through. But on this particular issue, as you see in the statement, the issue is more about subsidies than it is about gay adoption.

Follick read this statement regarding the settlement between Smith and the Department of Children and Families.

The focus of this settlement was on whether the state can legally provide an adoption subsidy for a special needs child who was not in the Department’s custody when he or she was adopted. The child in this case was not under our direct care or responsibility at the time of the adoption. The case was closed in 2008 with the child achieving permanency when the caregiver was awarded plenary guardianship by the dependency court. This settlement does not address the on-going legal consideration of the state’s gay adoption laws which, as an executive agency, we are still bound to follow.

In 2008, voters passed Amendment 2 which strictly banned gay marriage in the state. But Equality Florida’s Winfield says that surveys conducted that year showed support for gay adoption in the state.

At that time, 56 percent of Floridians believed that gay and lesbian well qualified parents should be able to adopt. When people understand that over 200 children in Florida age out of the foster care system, having never known the security and support of a family, when they understand that, they definitely come on board with understanding that having as big a pool of well qualified parents, is the best thing that Florida can do for these kids.

Winfield says the obstacles facing gays and lesbians will only decrease when those families are able to speak out on the issue. But voicing opposition could put those families in a catch twenty-two.

Foster families are in a precarious position, because those children are officially still wards of the state and can be removed at any given time. So that’s a really scary situation for these families. So sometimes it’s really challenging to find families that are willing to speak up, who are in a situation where they have raised a children frequently from infancy, the child is thriving, and still the child cannot be adopted and have the permanency that everyone wants in a family.

Florida is the only state that has an outright ban on gay adoption. It was established in 1977. Since that time, appeals to overturn that ban have been unsuccessful. But, Winfield says that the end is near for the ban on gay adoption in the state of Florida.

We believe that with the three trial court decisions that have found that ban unconstitutional and the expectation that any day now the appeals court will hand down its decision. We, Equality Florida are leading a legislative front with Senator Rick Nan Rich and Representative Mary Brandenburg to pass legislation that would repeal it through the legislature. Clearly the ban, its demise is long overdue and we are doing everything we can to ensure that it comes to an end.

In signing the agreement between the Department of Children and Families and Smith, DCF maintained it was not admitting any wrong doing. WMNF contacted the Florida Family Policy Council and the Florida Family Association, two organizations that support the ban on gay marriage. Both decline to comment by deadline.

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