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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a challenge to Florida’s law against gay adoption, passing up a chance to elaborate on its landmark 2003 gay rights case, Lawrence v. Texas. Without comment, the court in Lofton v. Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families let stand a 2004 decision by the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that upheld the Florida gay-adoption ban, the only law of its kind nationwide. The circuit ruling also criticized the reasoning of Lawrence, which struck down state sodomy laws. Gay rights groups, while critical of the court’s action Monday, sought to minimize its importance as any kind of statement about the justices’ current thinking on the issue or on gay marriage. “It did not rule against adoption by gay people today. It’s impossible to know why the Supreme Court declines to review a case,” said Patricia Logue, senior counsel of Lambda Legal. “This case deserved to be heard.” Matthew Coles of the American Civil Liberties Union, who represented gay males seeking to overturn the Florida ban, speculated that the 1977 law’s very uniqueness may have allowed the court to think it could pass up Lofton. “If the court meant what it said in Lawrence, it will probably have to come back to it someday,” said Coles. “But they may have felt that they could wait because only one state has this law. Our point was that this involves kids, for God’s sake, and the court is blowing off their cases.” Coles argued that under Lawrence, with its support for privacy rights for gays, and an earlier case, Romer v. Evans, Florida could not single out gay people for disfavored treatment when it came to adoption. No other category of people is excluded outright from adopting — including unmarried couples or those with records of violence or domestic abuse. With a shortage of adoptive parents in Florida, Coles said, the law unfairly prevents needy children from the chance to have a loving family. Several of the ACLU’s gay clients had been foster parents who could not adopt the children they had cared for for years. Florida defended the law as reflecting a valid state preference for placing children with mother-and-father households. It also argued that while Lawrence protected the right to private relationships, adoption is a public act and a privilege, not a right. Mathew Staver, president of Florida-based Liberty Counsel, which supported the law, said the high court action will encourage legislators in other states to pass similar bans. “Common sense and human history underscore the fact that children need a mother and a father,” said Staver. University of Florida law professor Barbara Woodhouse, who heads the university’s Center on Children and Families, said her concern now is that “the Florida law [will] clone itself instead of going away,” especially in Alabama and Georgia, the other states of the Eleventh Circuit. Woodhouse, who worked on a brief opposing the Florida law filed by the Child Welfare League, said Monday’s high court action is a setback for thousands of children who need permanent homes: “The impact on children seems to get lost in the discussion of how a case like this affects adults.” Tony Mauro is the U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.

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