Amazing Dad: Wayne LaRue Smith

Filed under: Amazing Parents

Wayne LaRue Smith, right, with his sons and his partner, Dan Skahen. Credit: Tom Oosterhoudt

Amazing Dad: Wayne LaRue Smith, a gay man who fought the Florida legal system for years so he could legally adopt his foster son

Wayne's Family: Partner: Dan Skahen, together for 18 years; Kids: Two sons, age 13 and 12

Wayne Lives In: Key West, Florida

Why Wayne Is Amazing: Since 1977, there has been a ban in Florida on homosexual men and women adopting children. Wayne LaRue Smith and his partner Dan Skahen had known for years they wanted a family so they became foster parents, which was acceptable under the law. Over the years, the pair has looked after 33 children in state custody, ranging in age from a 2-day-old newborn to a 17-year-old.

But in August 2008, Wayne, a lawyer, succeeded in finally legally adopting a boy who had been in his care since the child was 3 years old. He says it took 10 years and, "several hundred thousand dollars."

He is currently in the midst of adopting another foster child, but says there are some complications in the case that will make it take a little longer.

"I was able to adopt because the judge in my case found the statute (that bans gay people from adopting in Florida) to be unconstitutional under the state constitution," explains Wayne. "The State of Florida could have appealed that ruling, but chose not to. So my adoption order became final and binding irrespective of whether the law is ever over-turned, or not over-turned, in another case."

The attorney-general's office has argued that the law is in place to uphold public morality. Wayne won his adoption rights by, "advancing the argument that the statute was unconstitutional. It's a rather esoteric legal concept but it worked," he says proudly.

Ironically, Wayne's case did not set a precedent to allow other gay wanna-be parents to adopt. "A ruling in any particular case, my adoption case included, only becomes a binding precedent applicable to others if there is an appeal. Since the State did not appeal my case, it is binding on the State only with respect to me but it does not apply to others."

Wayne admits that there were times when he wanted to pack it all up and move to another state.

"I have two really wonderful kids who came to me when they were very young," he explains. "But they were wards of the state of Florida so I couldn't take them and go to another state. If they weren't in my life I would have said, 'You know what, I'm going to Massachusetts. I don't care how cold it is.'"

He gets truly impassioned and incensed when discussing the anti-gay adoption laws of Florida.

"Here's the real nightmare," he says outraged. "There are over 50,000 kids in foster care in Florida. These are the kids who are the wrong skin color or have siblings or are too old or have learning disabilities or other issues. The real crime is that there are these kids who go everyday without a home and I personally know that there are hundreds of people just like me who would adopt them in a minute. That's the crime."

Back on the homefront, Wayne's household includes two cats, a dog and two hermit crabs, and runs by a strict routine. Dads inspect homework assignments, which are to be done promptly, evening meals are eaten together and bedtime is 8.30 on weeknights. The devoted dad describes his parenting style as, "firm but understanding." He is also a proud and loving dad who says his older son, who is dyslexic, is thriving at his new, specialized school.

"Two years ago he was entering the sixth grade, but he was reading at a second grade level," says Wayne. "He's thriving now and the results have been quite miraculous. He wants so badly to be a vet and I now think that's a realistic possibility."

Wayne's Partner Dan Says:
"Wayne is a terrific father, from coaching soccer when the boys were young to helping with homework nightly. He always puts the boys ahead of anything else."

Recognition:
Wayne and Dan have received numerous awards from Gay and Lesbian groups in Florida and the Maurice Rosen Act of Courage Award from the American Civil Liberties Union in 2003.

Wayne's Guilty Pleasure: Eating a hot fudge sundae while watching a movie

Wayne's Best Advice:
"Take your attention off of everything else and give your children 110 percent of everything you've got because the moments will fly by so quickly and you will pile up regrets if you don't. Leave the office on time, let the grass grow a little bit and don't get too worried if the garage isn't perfectly neat. Spend time with your kids."

Related: Amazing Dad: Darryl Gibbs

Want to see who else made the list? Click here for the rest of AOL's 2010 Amazing Dads!

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