Martin Gill and his partner, licensed foster parents in Florida, were planning to move, so they told a state child placement official it wasn't a good time for them to take in two needy boys.
They put out the welcome mat, though, after the official begged them to give baby "James" and his 4-year-old brother, "John," a special Christmas.
When the brothers arrived, the couple were heartbroken at the confirmation of the "neglect" designation. James had a terrible ear infection, and his medicine was spoiled. John had such awful ringworm that he looked bald.
Traumatized and silent, little John had been his infant brother's caretaker. One of the first orders of business for his new foster parents was teaching him that it was their job -- not his -- to change James' diapers.
"Those kids were taking care of each other," recalls Gill. "My 4-year-old knew how to take care of his little brother. He knew how to feed him (and) change him. And when they came to live with us, he wanted to push me out of the way to do these things."
When the children couldn't return to their biological relatives, Gill and his partner focused on giving James and John a loving, permanent family.
But what should have been a happy ending for the brothers -- now ages 4 and 8 and thriving, along with their dog, cat and rabbit -- is instead a legal limbo. A Florida law, passed in 1977 during Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade, prohibits gay people from adopting.
With the American Civil Liberties Union's help, the boys' foster parents are challenging the law as a violation of the state constitution. On Nov. 25, after a four-day trial that included expert testimony on the healthiness of children raised in gay-headed families, a Florida circuit court judge wisely struck the ban down. (You can read the ruling at www.aclu.org.)
Judge Cindy Lederman concluded: "Reports and studies find that there are no differences in the parenting of homosexuals or the adjustment of their children. The issue is so far beyond dispute that it would be irrational to hold otherwise; the best interests of children are not preserved by prohibiting homosexual adoption."
Sadly, the state government is appealing. In this case's background is the anti-gay industry's fight with the professional world, from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry to the Child Welfare League of America.
Clearheaded judges need to rule based on the scientific consensus that children raised by gay parents are at least as well-adjusted as other kids. Despite that consensus, Mississippi bars same-sex couples from adopting; Utah bans unmarried couples from adopting; and Arkansas bars unmarried couples from fostering or adopting.
Florida, which bars all gay people from adopting, is the most restrictive.
But in many states without such restrictions, the best interests of children aren't always protected because family court judges can be reluctant to extend equal parenting rights to gay couples.
In 2006, in Florida alone, 165 children aged out of the foster care system without ever having been adopted. Read that sentence again.
Judges and lawmakers need to step up for neglected children. It's long past time for science to trump personal prejudice. Everyone deserves to grow up in a loving home.