Jacob Sullum

Last month, on the same day the California Supreme Court agreed to review a state ban on same-sex marriage, the online matchmaker eHarmony settled a New Jersey discrimination complaint by agreeing to serve gay singles. The following week, a Florida judge ruled that a state ban on adoption by homosexuals is unconstitutional.

To the average social conservative, these developments represent a campaign to force "the gay agenda" on people who are morally opposed to homosexuality. To the average gay rights activist, they represent a just struggle for equal treatment under the law. If there is any room for common ground between these two seemingly irreconcilable perspectives, it lies in recognizing the crucial distinction between public and private discrimination.

The adoption issue should be the easiest to resolve, since policies like Florida's hurt children as well as would-be parents. In the case that prompted Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman to override the state's ban on gay adoptive parents, Martin Gill and his partner had been raising two brothers, now 4 and 8, since 2004, when the state took them from their homes because of neglect and placed them in foster care.

No one disputed that the two men were excellent parents or that the boys were thriving in their care. Yet state law prevented Gill from adopting the brothers and giving them a permanent home simply because of his sexual orientation.

By threatening these boys with separation from the only decent parents they've ever known, this law elevates anti-gay ideology above children's welfare, which is supposed to be the state's paramount concern in adoption cases. More generally, by artificially limiting the pool of adoptive parents, the law makes it harder for children to find permanent homes.

Whether or not Florida's policy is "illogical to the point of irrationality" -- the basis by which Judge Lederman ruled that it violates the right of equal protection -- the state legislature clearly should have changed it long ago. Doing so does not require moral approval of homosexuality; it merely requires the recognition that being gay does not automatically make someone an unfit parent.

One of the arguments for barring gay couples from adopting is that they tend to be less stable than heterosexual couples. If so, banning gay marriage hardly helps.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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