FORT LAUDERDALE — Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer and the leading Democratic candidate for governor, told the state's largest gay rights group Sunday that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt if it's in the children's "best interest.''
Florida is the only state with an outright ban on adoption by lesbians and gay men. Sink said it should be up to a judge to determine whether it's in a child's best interest to be adopted, on a case-by-case basis.
"We need a system in which all of our children are assured that they live in a healthy, loving home -- a home that's determined not by any law,'' Sink told about 300 gay activists who packed a gallery of modern artwork at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. "The decision has to be made by the judge, in consultation with the experts, to determine what is the best for that individual child.''
Sink said she looked forward to working with Democratic state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, who has unsuccessfully pushed legislation to repeal the state's gay adoption ban. But Sink said after the speech that she had not read the bill and would not immediately commit to signing it if it passed and she was elected governor.
The issue offers a contrast between Sink and the Republican front-runner for governor, Attorney General Bill McCollum, whose office is defending the state's ban on gay adoption. A state appeals court is weighing the case of a North Miami gay man seeking to adopt his two foster children.
Sink's speech at the Equality Florida fundraiser comes as she tries to chart a politically moderate path to the governor's mansion in 2010. She denied the crowd an obvious opportunity to applaud by using legal jargon about the "best interest of the child'' instead of calling for an outright repeal of the state law.
The event in the state's Democratic stronghold raised $175,000 for the gay rights group.
"She's smart to go [to this event] this year instead of in 2010 and to do it in Broward,'' said Derek Newton, a Miami political consultant for the failed 2008 campaign against a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. "She has a race to run and she needs to appeal to the middle.''
Sink's appeal in some moderate Republican circles has helped her outraise McCollum by a 2-1 margin. And while she faces no major Democratic opposition, McCollum recently drew a primary challenger, Republican state Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland. Polls show Sink and McCollum in a close race.
"She's going to need to garner every progressive vote that she can, not just to vote for her but for people to donate their money and time and hard work,'' said Brian Winfield, an Equality Florida spokesman. "The gay community is known for volunteering for people who are going to be a champion for us.''
McCollum was known as a staunch conservative during his two decades representing the Orlando area in Congress. But because he had voted in favor of hate crimes legislation that included attacks against gay men and lesbians, he was labeled a "darling of homosexual extremists'' by his Republican opponent for the U.S. Senate in 2004. Mel Martinez was widely criticized for using vulgar campaign tactics but won the race.
McCollum continues to support hate crimes laws. And he and Sink both won praise from gay rights activists recently for allowing employees to take sick leave to care for same-sex partners. Sink's office policy specifically addresses domestic partners, while McCollum's rule is more vague.
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