Oklahoma may be the next state to pass a bill allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ families following a crucial vote.
On Tuesday, Senate Bill 1140 passed the Oklahoma Senate by a vote of 35 to 9. The legislation prevents the government from taking action against adoption and foster care agencies which deny placement to same-sex couples based on their “religious or moral convictions.” State entities would not be permitted to refuse grants, licenses, or the renewal of a contract to an agency for acting in accordance with their faith beliefs.
SB 1140 would also prevent LGBTQ individuals from taking action against adoption centers which refuse to place a child in their home.
Although there has never been a civil lawsuit filed against an adoption or foster care agency in the state of Oklahoma due to anti-LGBTQ discrimination, supporters say the legislation is intended to stave off future court battles. Republican sponsor Sen. Greg Treat claimed the goal is to “build the levee before the flood.”
“Right now there are no pending lawsuits, but we know they are popping up everywhere all around the country,” hetold the Associated Press.
Treat filed the legislation in the wake of a Texas suit in which a lesbian couple, Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin, were turned away from the Catholic Charities of Fort Worth after expressing interest in fostering a refugee child. Marouf and Esplin were told applicants must “mirror the holy family” to “qualify” for foster care placement.
The couplefiled a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in February.
LGBTQ advocates have opposed the bill, arguing that SB 1140 could permit widespread bias against a number of different populations, including Muslim couples, interfaith families, or any relationship a religiously based organization doesn’t agree with.
“Bills such as SB 1140 are a clear attempt to solve a ‘problem’ that simply doesn’t exist while enshrining anti-LGBTQ discrimination into law,” said Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement. “If lawmakers in Oklahoma truly wanted to help find permanent homes for the children in the child welfare system, they wouldn’t be focusing on narrowing the pool of potential parents, which only hurts those kids.”
According to the local advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma, 9,000 children require immediate placement, whereas a January 2017 report from the Oklahoma State Department of Educationclaimed nearly 14,000 youth in the state lack stable housing.
That problemhas only worsened in recent years, with the overall homeless population increasing by 24 percent in 2017.
That’s why Freedom Oklahoma has vowed to fight the legislation with an “unprecedented outreach program.” Troy Stevenson, the organization’s executive director, says volunteers will be calling legislators and residents to raise awareness about the perceived harms of SB 1140, as well as holding a lobby day at the state capitol.
“We will continue to fight SB 1140 in the House, we will fight it in the court of public opinion, and we will fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if we have to,” Stevenson claimed in a press release.
“Discrimination is not the Oklahoma Standard, and we will not let it become so,” he added.
SB 1140 is currently headed to the House for further deliberations. If the legislation is voted into law, Oklahoma would be the eighth state to allow agencies to reject applications for adoption and foster care purely on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginiaalready have similar laws on the books.
A faith-based adoption bill in Georgiahas been met with national backlash after passing the Senate last month. Companies like Marvel and Disney, which film productions in the state,have been urged to boycott.
The passage of anti-LGBTQ legislation in states like Indiana and North Carolinaled to hundreds of millions in economic losses.