Pro-gay groups in Florida are cheering the introduction Monday of a federal bill that would encourage states to drop barriers that exclude gay and lesbian people from adoption or foster programs.

Florida is the only state that bans gay people from adoption outright. State statue says: “No person eligible to adopt under this statue may adopt if that person is a homosexual.”

“Florida's ban on adoption by qualified gay men and lesbian women hurts children, and this bill would help eliminate barriers to children being adopted by qualified individuals and having a forever home,” said C.J. Ortuno, executive director of SAVE Dade, a group that advocates for gay rights in Miami-Dade County.

California Congressman Pete Stark's Every Child Deserves a Family Act would deny funding to states that ban gay, lesbian, transgender and unmarried people from adoption or foster programs.

The legislation would allow people who have been discriminated against to sue in federal court and would penalize states with discriminatory laws by withholding Social Security funds at the discretion of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The bill also calls for a Government Accountability Office study within five years to examine the law's efficacy.

Cathy James, president of Securing Our Children's Rights (SOCR), a group that advocates for repeal of the Florida ban, called the legislation “important” and promised to work with Stark's office to pass it.

James compared the measure to the Adoptions and Safe Families Act of 1977 (ASFA), which imposed significant financial penalties on states that do not meet specific federal goals.

“ASFA has a tremendous impact on the fiscal reality of every state's foster care system by establishing goals for permanency requirements,” she told On Top Magazine in an email.

Every Child Deserves a Family Act can go even further to shorten the time period for providing children in state custody with a permanent home by expanding the pool of qualified individuals and couples to provide safe, secure, loving and permanent homes for children,” James added.

Brandon Hensler, director of communications for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the group supports the legislation.

In introducing the bill, Stark told House members that a child's best interest should be the only criteria used when considering a potential placement. “Bigotry should play no part in this decision,” he said.

While gay men and lesbians are banned from adoption only in Florida, other states deny placement in roundabout ways. Several states forbid unmarried couples from adoption in states that outlaw gay marriage. Arkansas voters approved such a law, Act 1, last November.

Advocates for repeal of Florida's ban say it has cost the state millions, broken apart families and hurt children. A 2006 National Center for Lesbian Rights analysis concluded foster teens are 17.5 times more likely to be homeless and 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with a “severe” learning disability than non-foster teens.

The bill is headed to the House Ways & Means subcommittee but no hearings have been scheduled.