A Florida circuit court in the US struck down a state law on Tuesday that bars lesbians and gay men from adopting. The court granted adoptions to a gay man who has been raising two foster children since 2004.

“Our family just got a lot more to be thankful for this Thanksgiving,” said Martin Gill, a North Miami resident who is raising two brothers, four and eight, with his partner. “We are extremely relieved that the court has recognised that it is wrong to deny our boys the legal protections and security that only come with adoption.”

The court ruled that the ban violated the equal protection guarantees of the Florida constitution because it singles out gay people and the children they raise for different treatment for no rational reason. The court also found that the ban denies children the right to permanency provided by federal and state law under the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.

“While the decision will be welcome news to many lesbian and gay Floridians, the children in Florida foster care are the real winners today,” said Leslie Cooper, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project and a member of the legal team that tried the case.

“The court put the interest of the children first, recognising that the gay ban served no legitimate purpose and only made it more difficult for the state to find homes for the many children in foster care.”

The court’s decision comes after a four-day trial in October where the court heard from experts on children’s health and development and listened to the justifications offered by the state for the ban.

In reaching its decision, the court rejected the assumptions and stereotypes about gay people presented by the state, holding that many “reports and studies find that there are no differences in the parenting of homosexuals or the adjustment of their children.”

The court went on to say that, “…based on the robust nature of the evidence available in the field, this Court is satisfied that 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.”

The court also rejected claims by the state that children do better when raised in homes with a mother and a father and that children raised by gay parents face social stigma. The court found, “…the professionals and the major associations now agree there is well established and accepted consensus in the field that there is no optimal gender combination of parents.”

Martin Gill and his partner of more than eight years became foster parents to the two boys in December 2004. The couple, who had been parents to seven other foster children over the years, was initially told that the placement would be temporary, but a plan to place the children with their grandmother fell through. Both boys had significant health problems when they arrived in the home. The older boy, who was four at the time, was withdrawn and didn’t speak. Today both boys are healthy, have many friends and are doing well in school. The older boy has also progressed significantly at school.

The Florida law barring lesbians and gay men from adopting has been described as the most expansive anti-gay parenting law in the US. It was passed in 1977 in response to an anti-gay crusade led by former Miss America and Florida orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant.

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