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The Alligator

Children first: Courts' priorities wrong in adoption decisions (Thursday, January 13, 2005) Line spacer

As cliche, as it sounds, it's time for somebody to think about the children.

In a number of recent decisions, courts have been attempting to throw the institution of parenthood back in time to the days when it was more socially acceptable to be a murderer than a "bastard."

Evidence of this is not far from home. In Jacksonville, a couple who raised a 3-year-old boy, Evan Johnson, since he was two days old, have been ordered to give him to his biological mother.

The mother, who had separated from the biological father before she knew she was pregnant, had agreed privately to let the defendants adopt Evan.

Two months after the couple began caring for the boy, the father-not the mother-filed for custody before the adoption could be finalized.

There were plenty of reasonable arguments for the father's side. Since the adoption wasn't legally recognized yet, he had a legitimate claim. Because Evan had been with his new family for only two months, he may not have developed a bond with them that would have been traumatizing to break.

But the father in the beginning did not even have the mother on his side, as she supported the surrogate parents right to keep the boy-until it became apparent the father could win.

More importantly, after a long period of legal battles, Evan has lived with the defendants for three years. To remove a child from those who have been his parents in every sense but by law for that long would be unconscionable.

This is not an issue of whether or not the result was right under the law, but an issue of whether or not it was in the child's best interests.

Unfortunately, the decision reflects the prevailing judicial opinion throughout the state and the country that these are matters of parents' rights, rather than matters of children's rights.

Providing the most glaring evidence of this, the Supreme Court has yet again cleanly extricated itself from the battle over gay adoption.

Their continued refusal to consider this important social issue is baffling. If the Supreme Court can see fit to rule on as touchy a subject as the private practice of gay sex-a practice that does not affect public life, regardless of whether or not you agree with it on moral grounds-they most certainly should not put off making a decision that could improve the lives of thousands of children.

The principle is very simple: those who would make the best parents should be allowed to adopt. If a gay couple can pass the rigorous selection procedures and background checks that are required under the current system, they should not be barred from doing so.

Gay rights is and will continue to be a devisive issue in our society. If the Supreme Court has decided it needs more time to consider the correct position, fine. Better to make the choice with authority once than to deliver a wishy-washy plurality that solves nothing.

But they should not duck the issue of adoption rights when it comes up again. In the meantime, the right for our children to have loving, supportive families is being neglected.

For the other cases, there is no excuse. When a suit such as this comes up, there is only one thing the judge and jury must do.

Think of the children.

Reprinted with permission from the Independent Florida Alligator

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