The announcement last week that conservatives had mounted a lawsuit against the Florida Bar to keep it from arguing in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to adopt in Florida is the latest evidence that adoption is likely to become the next gay rights battle.

Several events nationwide are pushing the adoption issue to the front burner of gay rights, but Florida remains at the epicenter of the debate.

Late last year, a Miami-Dade circuit judge was the latest to disagree with Florida's 30-year-old ban on gay adoption, enacted during the infamous Anita Bryant anti-gay crusades of the 70s.

Judge Cindy Lederman's order allows Frank Gill, 47, and his partner to legally adopt the 4- and 8-year-old half brothers they have raised since 2004.

Lederman's 53-page ruling found the law to be unconstitutional and to have “no rational basis.”

The Florida Bar of Governors approved filing a “friend of the court” brief on January 30 supporting Lederman's ruling when the state appealed to the Third District Court.

In an unusual move, lawyers for the conservative Liberty Counsel filed a petition in the Florida Supreme Court, saying the Bar is not free to file a brief in such cases.

Lawyers for Liberty Counsel argue the brief violates the First Amendment.

“The First Amendment demands that The Florida Bar remain neutral on matters that do not relate to the regulation of attorneys,” Matthew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, said. “The bar cannot force attorneys and judges to pay mandatory dues and then position itself as an adversary against them on controversial ideological issues.”

But just as the gay adoption ban in Florida appears to be nearing its end-game as the Florida Supreme Court enters the picture, new battlegrounds have emerged on the issue.

Act 1, the ballot initiative that prohibits unmarried gay and lesbian couples from adopting, was approved by Arkansas voters on November 4. And lawmakers in Kentucky and Tennessee say they will place a similar measure before voters, as well.

The gay adoption ban was backed by the Family Council Action Committee (FCAC), the same Little Rock-based organization largely responsible for passage of a constitutional ban against gay marriage in Arkansas in 2004. The FCAC is partially funded by James Dobson's conservative ministry Focus on the Family Action.

While the law affects both gay and straight couples, it disproportionately impacts gay couples who cannot legally marry in the state. During the campaign, the FCAC freely admitted that they were targeting gay couples.

On its website, the FCAC listed three primary reasons for the law: For the safety of children, to increase the number of prospective homes, and to “blunt a homosexual agenda.”

The Arkansas chapter of the ACLU made a court appearance on Monday to defend a lawsuit it has filed on behalf of families harmed by the law. Arkansas attorney General Dustin McDaniel asked a circuit court in January to dismiss the challenge.

Florida is the only state to have successfully outlawed adoption by gay men and lesbians, but the list of states prohibiting unmarried couples from adoption is growing. Mississippi and Alabama were the first to pass such laws. And now Kentucky and Tennessee say they will join their ranks.

Both states have modeled their proposals after Arkansas' ban: Outlaw unmarried couples from adoption knowing full well that gay and lesbian couples cannot marry in their states.

The Tennessee lawmakers who have introduced the bills – Rep. John J. DeBerry Jr. (D-Memphis) and Senator Paul Stanley (R-Memphis) – say they will not discuss their reasons for sponsoring the bills.

“If a member of the public would like to know my reasons, they can contact me, come into my office,” DeBerry told The Tennessean. “We will shut the door, and I would be happy to share my reasons.”

Kentucky lawmakers, however, are a bit more vocal.

“The bill is necessary for the welfare of our children,” Senator Gary Tapp, a Republican from Shelbyville, who is sponsoring SB68, told the Louisville-based Courier-Journal. “It's a proven fact that children are better off raised in a safe, loving environment.”

The bill is supported by The Family Foundation of Kentucky, which says the bill does not target gay couples. But a widely-reported statement put out by the group says opponents are “throwing children under the bus on the road to gay rights.”

By rejecting unmarried couples as eligible adopters, while denying gay couples the right to marry, lawmakers have inextricably linked the rights of marriage and adoption. Gay activists having staked out gay marriage as a civil right must now counter anti-gay foes on the question of adoption rights as well.