Making the Case for Florida's LGBT Parents

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December 3, 2015
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Beth Littrell

Florida is called the Sunshine State, but the reality for many LGBT parents has been quite dark for many years. The good news is that Lambda Legal has been making the case for Florida’s LGBT parents and slowly chipping away at the discriminatory laws.

Most recently, Lambda Legal won its appeal in Powers v. Lippens. We filed the appeal on behalf of lesbian mom, Debbie Lippens, arguing that she is a parent to 12-year-old A.P.-L., the child she raised since birth. In October 2015, the Fifth District Court of Appeals decided in our favor, overruling the judge who had labeled Debbie a stalker for trying to contact her daughter after Debbie’s estranged wife cut off contact. This victory is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that Debbie can finally exercise the visitation granted by the court during divorce proceedings.

In addition, the language used by the appellate court recognizing the “familial relationship” between a non-biological parent and her child is a victory in a state that continues to treat non-biological parents, barred from petitioning to adopt until recently, as legal strangers to their children.

Because custody issues are very private, difficult matters, we do not share many of those stories. Yet, we are making progress in Florida on behalf of gay and lesbian parents.

Last year, we won an important case in the appellate court that reversed a terrible trial court decision ruling that second parent adoptions were unauthorized. Our case reinstated the adoption and reunited our client, a non-biological mother, with her son. In 2013, we filed an amicus brief in D.M.T. v. T.M.H., a case in which the Florida Supreme Court upheld a decision that recognized the parental rights of both women in a same-sex relationship to the child they conceived together (where one woman was the genetic mother and the other woman was the birth mother). This was a great step for Florida toward recognizing that when two people plan for, raise, nurture and co-parent a child, the parents' genders are irrelevant to the child, and should be to the State.

Just last April, the Florida state senate sent the governor a bill that would get rid of an outdated and unenforceable law that banned gay and lesbian Floridians from adopting children—a district judge ruled the law unconstitutional in 2010 but the law remains on the books.

Debbie and people like her across the country shouldn’t have to struggle to maintain contact with their beloved sons and daughters. LGBT people need to have their legal rights as parents recognized – for their own wellbeing, but especially for the sake of their children. As we continue to fight, the sun is peeking through the clouds, but we still have more work to do.

Please join Lambda Legal today and help us defend LGBT parents and their children! Your membership gift will be matched dollar for dollar by the $1.25 million matching challenge from the estate of John Barham and Dick Auer.