Family Matters

Florida’s Gay Adoption Ban Crumbles: The Dad Behind the Case Celebrates

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Martin Gill plays with one of his adopted sons.

Saturday is National Adoption Day. This year, Martin Gill is free to mark the day as the official father to two foster children he’s been raising since a caseworker dropped the boys — a feverish baby and his wary 4-year-old brother, both riddled with ringworm — on his North Miami doorstep six years ago.

A year after the boys arrived, Gill petitioned to adopt them. And that’s when the wait began. Gill was a trusted foster parent who had cared for six children since he was licensed in 2002 — that number is now up to 14 — but when he fell for the brothers and wanted to become their father, he was denied because he’s gay. (More on The Fight Over Gay Adoption Heats Up)

At one point, the Florida courts ordered the adoption be approved, but the state immediately announced it would appeal. But when no appeal was filed by Oct. 22, the adoptions became final. The country’s longest-standing ban on gay adoption had become obsolete.

Laws prohibiting gay people from adopting get proposed in state legislatures fairly regularly — more than a dozen states have considered such bans in the past several years — but child welfare advocates are generally able to defeat them, says Leslie Cooper, Gill’s lawyer and a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project (ACLU LGBT).  “Child welfare professionals realize they are very bad policies,” says Cooper. “You can’t say this group is a bad set of parents and this group is a good set of parents because there are good parents in every group.”

Mississippi is now the only state with a gay adoption ban; it doesn’t allow adoption by same-sex couples though individuals ostensibly should have no problem. Utah prohibits adults who co-habit — gay or not — from adopting and so does Arkansas, though its law is under appeal. (More on More Americans Consider Pets Family, But Not Gay Couples)

With the legal proceedings behind him, Gill, a flight attendant for American Airlines, can now get on with the business of being dad.

First recent order of business? Halloween costumes. Gill’s older son, who is 10, went as Rocky Balboa. His younger son, who is 6, chose an orange prison jumpsuit with handcuffs, a dubious selection that Gill attributes to the boys seeing numerous inmates brought before a judge during the court dates they attended with Gill. Eventually, though, he reconsidered and decided to go as a Power Ranger. (Whew, parenting disaster averted.)

When the boys first arrived in late 2004 after being removed from their home due to neglect, the caseworker had told Gill and his partner — with whom he still lives — that the children needed only temporary housing for a month or so.

The baby was just four months old when he arrived, so it was easy for him to adjust. But his older brother struggled. For a long while, he sat against the wall, looking despondent. He didn’t speak for the first month, and then he whispered. When Gill tried to hug him, he backed away; by way of explanation, the boy said, My auntie said I ain’t got no baby daddy. My brother got a baby daddy so you must be his baby daddy.

Gill responded: “You don’t need to tell people you don’t have a daddy because I will always be your daddy.” (More on “Mompetition”: Why You Just Can’t Make Mom Friends)

Then he had to make good on that promise. The relatives who had intended to adopt the boys had dropped out. The boys’ great-grandmother asked Gill to adopt them.

“I said yes, although I knew in the back of my mind it couldn’t happen,” says Gill.

A year after Gill became the boys’ foster parent, a different caseworker arrived to work on permanent arrangements for the children. There was no way the brothers would be able to remain together, the caseworker announced. The baby could be easily adopted — everyone wants to adopt babies — but the older boy would likely stay with Gill in extended foster care.

“We can get him a good family,” the caseworker said, referring to the baby. “I was in disbelief,” says Gill. “What was wrong with the family that had cared for them for a year and kept them together?”

That experience catapulted Gill into the role of activist. The ACLU took his case, and Gill could do little but be patient. (More on I ♥ Boobies: ACLU Defends Girls’ Right to Wear Sassy Bracelets)

As the years unfurled, Gill was honest with the children about what was happening. “They know it’s because they have two daddies,” says Gill. “They know we’re all going to have the same last name, that we’re a forever family.”

Gill has no doubt they fully comprehend the situation. Recently, he found three stray kittens and gave two away. Before the third could meet the same fate, the boys gave the kitten a last name — Gill, of course. “They gave it a last name so I couldn’t give it away,” says Gill. “They pretty much get it this time.”