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Charles McBurney: Video flap over gay adoption bill taken out of context

State Rep. Charles McBurney of Jacksonville says a video making the rounds on progressive blogs has been taken out of context.

McBurney is being lit up in the liberal blogosphere after seeming to cut off 10-year-old Nathaniel Gill from testifying against legislation that would allow adoption agencies to turn away same-sex parents from adopting a child by citing religious objections.

Gill’s father was the plaintiff in the case that overturned Florida’s ban on gay adoption in 2010.

In the video, Gill is seen telling the committee that when he was a baby, his 4-year-old brother would care for him and beg for food for both of them, prompting the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) to place them in foster care.

“I was lucky to be placed with my brother, he was all I had, and he has looked after me since I was born,” Gill said. “In the home where DCF placed us, we had two dads. We were happy and liked our new home a lot.”

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At that point, McBurney interrupts.

“Mr. Gill, you’re doing a great job, but unfortunately your minute’s up,” he said.

As outrage mounted, McBurney took to Facebook to speak directly with Jacksonville constituents who were upset by the footage. He explained that the short clip didn’t reveal the hearing’s full context.

First, I thought, and still do, that the young man was doing a fine job. I think I said that. He was doing better than many of the adults. In no way was I trying to be disrespectful. I have always pushed to have young people engaged in the process (civic education). Unfortunately, the entire video was not shown.

On that day we had several controversial bills, 13 total, from gun bills to alimony. We were given a 2-hour block of time to hear everything. On the first bill, before any public testimony was taken, I tried to make it clear that everyone would have one minute on each bill. Rules don’t require any pubic testimony. There is no requirement to hear anyone on any bill. But I felt everyone who wanted to speak on a bill should be given a chance. I wanted to treat all, both for and against any bill, the same. As it was, even with getting permission to extend, we barely got through the agenda. Should I have let the young man continue and cut off others? Perhaps so. No doubt I would have been criticized either way. It comes with the job.

What I did do, and is not mentioned, is have the young man’s entire remarks published in the committee record, so that the entire remarks would be available to everyone on the committee. I don’t know that this was a satisfactory solution, but I was trying to do the best I could.

Many of Florida’s 82 private adoption agencies are run by churches who are opposed to homosexuality.  Under HB 7111, that would qualify as a “religious or moral” objection to gay adoption.

Just a month ago, the House passed a bill officially overturning Florida’s ban on gay adoptions.  (The measure is seen as having a much more difficult hill to climb in the more moderate Senate.)

Critics call the bill a way of legalizing “Indiana-style” discrimination.

Meanwhile, Republican-turned-Democrat Jacksonville activist Jesse Wilson, who was raised in the foster care system, had a measured response to the flap.

“I’m actually in Tallahassee with a group of teens right now and they are each given respect and more than a minute each to speak. That video was frustrating to watch. Some of the most powerful voices legislators can listen to are those of the youth and those being directly affected. This boy was both. I believe he (Rep. McBurney) probably didn’t mean to be malicious but could have given the boy a little more time.

“I’ve been in the kids’ shoes and the group I’m with now is doing the same. It’s a scary thing for them to get up and speak and that validates their fears.

“But with that said, Rep. McBurney has been a champion for children in the past. Specifically with passing House Bill 561 last year which requires the appointment of an attorney to represent dependent children who have special needs, unless a pro bono attorney represents the child.”

Equality Florida has posted a lengthier video with Nathaniel giving his thoughts about the legislation on YouTube.

Written By

In addition to her work writing for Florida Politics, Melissa Ross also hosts and produces WJCT’s First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR/PBS station’s flagship local call-in public affairs radio program. The show has won four national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). First Coast Connect was also recognized in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and Melissa has also been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality. As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. During her years in broadcast television, Melissa picked up three additional Emmys for news and feature reporting. Melissa came to WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She can be reached at m.ross66211@gmail.com.

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