On Tuesday, Laura Bassett of Huffington Post brought attention to Florida’s 2001 “Scarlet Letter” adoption law. According to Bassett, the controversial law required single mothers who did not know the identity of the fathers of their children “to publish their sexual histories in a newspaper before they could legally put their babies up for adoption.” The law reportedly passed with “overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate.”
In 2002, The Gainesville Sun reported on the new adoption law:
Under a relatively new provision, Florida requires mothers wanting to put a baby up for adoption to publish a newspaper ad identifying herself and her sexual partners in the year prior to her child’s birth. It even applies to rape victims or minors.
The mother has to publicize her sex partners only if she can’t find the biological father and get him to sign a waiver before the adoption.
The measure was contained in a 104-page bill passed by the Legislature in 2001. The law, which had Gov. Jeb Bush’s tacit endorsement, took effect last October. The legislation was controversial, but the provision on publicizing a woman’s sexual history was not a focal point of the debate.
And it wasn’t a one-time ad — it had to run once a week for a month, at the expense of either the mother or the people who wanted to adopt the baby…
Basset noted that the law was repealed in 2003 “after it was successfully challenged in court.”
I bring this story up because one presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, and a potential presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, are both linked to this “Scarlet Letter” legislation.
Bassett said that Bush had argued in his 1995 book Profiles in Character that public shaming could be “an effective way to regulate the ‘irresponsible behavior’ of unwed mothers, misbehaving teenagers and welfare recipients.” Bassett said that in a book chapter titled “The Restoration of Shame,” the former governor of Florida “made the case that restoring the art of public humiliation could help prevent pregnancies ‘out of wedlock.’”
From Bush’s book:
One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct. Their parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior. There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful.
Basset said that Bush pointed to “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, in which the main character is forced to wear a large red ‘A’ for ‘adulterer’ on her clothes to punish her for having an extramarital affair that produced a child, as an early model for his worldview.” Bush wrote, “Infamous shotgun weddings and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter are reminders that public condemnation of irresponsible sexual behavior has strong historical roots.”
When he was governor of Florida in 2001, Basset said, Bush had the opportunity to test his theory on public shaming when he declined to veto the very controversial “Scarlet Letter” bill.
In another HuffPo article on the subject of the “Scarlet Letter” law, Bassett named the current members of Congress who had helped to sign the legislation into law when they were Florida legislators.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R) was among the Florida state legislators who voted for the so-called “Scarlet Letter” law in 2001 that required single mothers to publish their sexual histories in the newspaper in order to place their babies up for adoption.
Five U.S. congressmen — Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R), Lois Frankel (D), Jeff Miller (R), Gus Bilirakis (R) and Dennis Ross (R) — were state legislators at the time and voted for the controversial bill.
Bassett said the fact that Rubio had “supported the bill could inoculate Bush from criticism that he allowed it to go into effect if Bush decides to throw his hat in the ring.”
I think neither Rubio nor Bush should be “inoculated” from criticism about their involvement in the passage of Florida’s 2001 “Scarlet Letter” law. What do you think?
Jeb Bush In 1995: Unwed Mothers Should Be Publicly Shamed (Huffington Post)
State rethinks adoption law (The Gainesville Sun)