A federal judge ruled yesterday that Florida's law banning homosexuals from adopting children is valid, saying the state has a legitimate interest in allowing only married couples to adopt.

The law is considered the nation's toughest ban on gay adoptions, prohibiting adoptions by any gay or lesbian individual or couple. Mississippi and Utah also ban adoptions by same-sex couples.

U.S. Judge James Lawrence King accepted the state's argument that the law was in children's best interests because married heterosexuals provide children with a more stable home. "Plaintiffs have not asserted that they can demonstrate that homosexual families are equivalently stable, are able to provide proper gender identification or are no more socially stigmatizing than married heterosexual families," said King, senior judge for the Miami-based U.S. Southern District of Florida.

Steven Lofton and Douglas Houghton filed the lawsuit after being told they could not legally adopt children already in their care. Lofton, a foster parent, wanted to adopt a 10-year-old boy he has raised since infancy. Houghton is the guardian of a 9-year-old boy.

The men challenged Florida's adoption laws, arguing that they discriminate against gays. King, however, said in his ruling that "given there is no fundamental right to adopt or be adopted, there can be no fundamental right to apply for adoption."

The judge did discount Florida's argument that the law is legitimate because it reflects the state's disapproval of homosexuality. "The court cannot accept that moral disapproval of homosexuals or homosexuality serves a legitimate state interest," he wrote.

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