Just hours after Oklahoma sent an anti-LGBTQ adoption bill to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk, Kansas lawmakers approved nearly identical legislation.
On Friday, the Kansas Senate gave its seal of approval to Senate Bill 284, one of the nation’s most discriminatory proposals targeting same-sex families. SB 284, which passed by a vote of 24 to 15 on Friday, would allow even foster care and adoption agencies which receive state or federal funding to turn away LGBTQ couples based on their sincerely held faith beliefs.
So-called “religious freedom” adoption bills passed in other states largely exclude government-funded agencies, preventing these entities from discriminating against same-sex applicants.
Supporters of SB 284which was previously known as House Bill 2481say the legislation is necessary to prevent adoption agencies from closing up shop in Kansas. After the Supreme Court passed marriage equality in 2015, adoption centers in California, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. announced they would no longer operate in those localities.
Catholic Charities, which was snubbed by the state of Illinois four years earlier due to its policy of excluding same-sex couples from adoption, threatened to also close down if SB 284 didn’t pass.
Michael Schuttloffel, director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, pointed the finger at LGBTQ advocates for forcing them into this position.
“This is a matter of activist groups who don’t like certain religious beliefs and they want to use the power of the government to crush people that operate according to those religious beliefs,” Schuttloffel said in statement.
As the second-largest provider of social services in the United States, Catholic Charities has an extraordinary amount of bargaining power in Kansas. The nationwide organization operates centers in Atchison, Dodge City, Emporia, Garden City, Great Bend, Kansas City, Lawrence, Leavenworth, Olathe, Overland Park, Salina, St. Joseph, Topeka, and Wichita.
The nonprofit urged supporters to write letters to their local lawmaker asking them to support SB 284, and it seems the governor was listening. He vowed to sign it.
“Catholic Charities and other adoption agencies are key to the fabric of our communities,” Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer said in a press release directly citing the religious group. “I look forward to signing this bill because it increases the opportunities for needy children to find loving homes.”
Critics of the bill, however, say that SB 284 is counterproductive. If signed into law, the legislation will limit the opportunities for children to be placed in a loving home.
Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) called SB 284 a piece of “regressive, discriminatory” legislation that would have a harmful impact on Kansas’ national reputation, labeling the bill the “vampire that won’t die.” As the Wichita Eagle put it, Sen. John Doll (I-Garden City) argued it’s “not the job of lawmakers to judge people.”
“This bill, it does that,” Doll said.
Adoption Foster Connect President Lori Ross claimed SB 284 would discourage LGBTQ couples from even exploring the possibility of adopting in fear of being discriminated against. Because placement centers don’t always advertise their faith beliefs, it can be hard to know which resources are safe.
“If you’re a single person, or a gay person, or a divorced person, or you’re Jewish, then you better think twice before you call,” Ross told the Associated Press.
An estimated 7,500 children in Kansas are currently in need of stable housing.
But even with the backing of Catholic Charities and the Kansas Department for Children and Families, SB 284 faced a tough road to passage after companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, and TechNet sent a letter to legislators opposing it.
Every single Democrat in the Kansas Legislature either voted against the bill or abstained, and local news stations claimed liberal lawmakers were “literally standing and shouting and refusing to sit down” when it was brought up for a vote. One legislator nearly had to be removed from the chambers following his protest of the bill.
SB 284 passed the House of Representatives by an extremely narrow margin of five votes: 63 to 58.
To date, seven states allow religiously affiliated adoption and foster care agencies to turn away same-sex couples: Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia. Oklahoma is poised to join the list, with Gov. Mary Fallin likely to sign a “religious freedom” adoption bill approved by the state legislature this week.
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