Georgia moved one step closer on Tuesday to passing legislation allowing adoption and foster care agencies to turn away same-sex couples.
Senate Bill 375, also known as the Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act, would permit agencies across the state to deny placement to LGBTQ families if doing so would conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs. It also prevents the state government from taking any “adverse action” against service providers which discriminate in the name of faith.
Republican Sen. William Ligon, who introduced SB 375 earlier this month, claimed that taking action to preserve the rights of religious people is necessary to prevent foster care and adoption agencies from shutting down in fear of being forced to service same-sex couples.
He also claimed that by preventing the closure of faith-based centers, it would lead to more adoptions overall.
During debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, Democratic Sen. Elena Parent took issue with that characterizationclaiming it would discourage many couples from adopting in fear they could be discriminated against. Critics of similar bills passed in other states claimed they could greenlight bias against unmarried people, single mothers, interfaith couples, Jewish families, or Muslim parents.
“It seems like [SB 375 is] dealing with problems that do not exist, although it might make people feel better,” the Atlanta lawmaker claimed.
“It’s not a matter of feeling,” Ligon responded.
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday along party lines: Five Republicans voted in favor of the bill and two Democrats voted against. Supporters of the bill include Sen. Greg Kirk, author of a sweeping “religious freedom” bill vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal two years ago, and Sen. Josh McKoon, a major booster of that failed legislation.
SB 375 is now set for a full vote of the Senate in the coming weeks, where it boasts widespread support in the conservative body. To date, 18 lawmakers have signed on in support of the bill.
Religious adoption and foster care agencies in the state have backed the effort.
“The bill proposed is consistent with how government agencies for decades have partnered with private agencies to find homes for children,” said Morgan Greenberg, a spokesperson for Bethany Christian Services, in a press release. “It doesn’t restrict anyone from participating in foster care or adoption, but it does preserve for faith-based agencies the freedom to be faithful to our convictions.”
But LGBTQ advocates have claimed the bill is both harmful and unnecessary: Adoption and foster care agencies already have the right to refuse placement to anyone they like.
“There are no winners with SB 375,” claimed Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham in a statement. “This bill does not help the thousands of young people in our state’s adoption and foster care system. It does not help loving parents who are looking to open their homes to children in need, either through fostering or adoption.”
“There are only losers with this bill: children denied permanent and loving homes, and potential parents coldly turned away simply because of who they are,” Graham said.
Critics of the legislation have also pointed out that legislation passed in states like Alabama, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Texas have not encouraged more adoptions. Not a single one of those states experienced an uptick in adoption and foster care placements after their “religious freedom” bills were enacted, as statistics from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services indicate.
“Child welfare advocates have been clear that allowing adoption agencies to discriminate won’t help place more children with loving families,” claimed Georgia Unites Against Discrimination in an email. “In fact, it would let LGBTQ youth languish even longer in the system.”
More than 14,000 children are currently housed in the state’s adoption and foster care system.
Opponents have also warned the passage of SB 375 may also discourage companies like Amazon from doing business in the state. Currently, the tech giant is searching for a home for its second headquarters, and Atlanta is on its short list. Ahead of that decision, the “No Gay, No Way” campaign has urged the company not to open the new center in a state with anti-LGBTQ laws.
“Legislation that sanctions discrimination takes us further away from our goal of attracting investment that would improve the lives of Georgia families,” the Metro Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce said in a joint statement.
Winning the Amazon bid would bring an estimated 50,000 jobs to the state of Georgia.
Despite the fact that Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act cost the state $60 million in lost business, Republican lawmakers were unmoved by claims of economic blowback. Republican House Rep. Emory Dunahoo told colleagues legislators “need to make decisions without concern about whether they’ll sit well with Amazon,” as the LGBTQ website Georgia Voice originally reported.
A “religious freedom” bill patterned after Indiana’s since-repealed law was voted down in the Senate Rules Committee last year. Senate Bill 233 would have compelled state entities to prove a “compelling governmental interest” before infringing upon an individual’s religious beliefs.
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