State-Funded Discrimination: Adoption Edition

Adoption agencies could refuse to place children in otherwise stable homes because the parents seeking to adopt are unmarried, previously divorced, a same sex couple, or adherents to a religion not practiced by the child-placing agency.

This year’s saga of state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bills is nearing the end, but has not come to a complete stop, yet.  We continue to monitor RFRA bills in North Carolina and Michigan. Meanwhile, many other bills are moving through state legislatures and have been introduced in Congress that would allow religious beliefs to justify discrimination in adoption placements by state-funded, private adoption agencies.

The Michigan, Florida, and Texas, legislatures have introduced bills this session that would allow state-funded child-placing agencies to discriminate in placement based on the agencies’ religious or moral convictions. Adoption agencies could refuse to place children in otherwise stable homes because the parents seeking to adopt are unmarried, previously divorced, a same-sex couple, or adherents to a religion not practiced by the child-placing agency. This result hurts the children and the parents.  Such an outcome could mean denying a child a stable home that would be in his or her best interests.  Furthermore, it results in state-funded discrimination against the parents, which should never be tolerated.

Michigan: Michigan’s adoption discrimination measure is packaged together as three bills: HB 4188, HB 4189, and HB 4190. This bill package passed the House chamber last month and was heard in the Senate Families, Seniors, and Human Services Committee yesterday. After two hours of testimony the bills passed 4-1 on a party line vote. The only democratic senator on the committee offered six amendments including one that would have prohibited agencies from denying a placement if it’s not in the best interest of the child. All of the amendments failed. The bills now move to the full Senate for consideration. Governor Snyder has said he would not sign a state RFRA bill without civil rights protections, but he has not spoken against the discriminatory adoption bill package.

Florida: On Monday, a Florida Senate committee heard its adoption discrimination bill, HB 7111.   The committee decided not to move forward with the bill. Although HB 7111 is not expected to have another hearing, it is possible for the Senate president to convene the committee again to discuss the bill. Coincidently, earlier this month the Florida legislature passed a bill officially repealing a ban on same-sex couple adoptions, which was ruled unconstitutional by a 2008 court decision. HB 7111 could have the effect of unofficially reinstating this ban.

Texas: The Texas House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee discussed HB 3864 (SB 1935) last week, but did not vote on the bill. The bill, in addition to allowing state-funded adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples, could also allow these agencies to deny children any access to health care with which the state-funded agency disagrees. Furthermore, opponents of HB 3864 explain that the bill could infringe on existing state protections for children in foster care, including protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  

Some members of Congress have decided to take on this issue as well. Senator Enzi (R-WY) and Representative Kelly (R-PA) have both introduced the “Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2015,” which would allow state-funded organizations to discriminate on the basis of religion. The bill would allow religious organizations to refrain from conduct that conflicts with their religious beliefs or moral convictions when conducting services, including foster-care or adoption placements. Senator Enzi introduced the same bill last year, which some dubbed a “license to discriminate” for religious adoption agencies.

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