A “religious freedom” proposal allowing adoption and foster care agencies to refuse placement to same-sex couples has been killed in the U.S. House of Representatives.
On Wednesday, the House approved funding for Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education without a controversial amendment permitting child placing agencies to discriminate in the name of faith. Known as the Aderholt Amendment, it was approved by the House Appropriations Committee in June following a 29-23 vote that fell along party lines.
If made law, the amendment would have prevented states from taking action against any religious adoption or foster care center which blocks same-sex couples from becoming parents. Doing so would result in a 15 percent reduction in federal funding for the offending state’s child welfare services.
Robert Aderholt — the Alabama lawmaker for whom the amendment is named — claimed the proposal is not intended to discriminate. Instead, he said, it reassures faith-based agencies they won’t be forced to violate their beliefs.
“As co-chairman of the House Coalition on Adoption, my goal was straightforward to encourage states to include all experienced and licensed child welfare agencies so that children are placed in caring, loving homes where they can thrive,” the Republican said in a statement.
“We need more support for these families and children in crisis, not less,” he added.
Although some agencies in states like California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia have, indeed, ceased offering adoption and foster care in order to avoid placing children with same-sex couples, critics of Aderholt’s proposal say the closures had little impact on the number of successful placements in those states.
Opponents argue the amendment actually achieves the opposite of what it sets out to do. It reduces the likelihood the estimated 118,000 children in the United States currently waiting to be adopted will be placed in a loving home.
Studies show LGBTQ people are disproptionately likely to adopt. Same-sex parents are four times more likely than heterosexuals to be raising an adopted child.
“Across the country, there is a shortage of homes available to children in need of a permanent, loving family,” claimed the North American Council on Adoptable Children in a statement. “By rewarding states that discriminate… we will reduce the potential number of foster and adoptive families even more, as LGBTQ parents or parents of different faith will be turned away from agencies.”
The more than 200 advocacy groups who opposed the Aderholt Amendment say it could also be used to deny placement to any couple that doesn’t meet an agency’s religious standards. This may include interfaith families, Muslims, unwed couples, or people who have previously been divorced.
“This amendment would allow agencies to use a religious litmus test to determine which families or children to serve,” warned the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year.
Critics of the Aderholt Amendment cheered its demise on Wednesday.
Denise Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer for the Family Equality Council, said the proposal broke “the cardinal rule of child welfare.” In a statement provided to INTO, she said “the needs of children should come first.”
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro added that she was “proud to fight to ensure that the Aderholt amendment — which would have inserted bigotry and discrimination into our foster care and adoption systems — was removed from this year’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education funding bill.”
“Children deserve to live in safe, happy, and healthy permanent homes,” the Connecticut Democrat said in a statement. “[…] No qualified adoptive and foster care parent should be discriminated against, period.”
While the Aderholt Amendment is effectively tabled for the remainder of the 2018-2019 legislative session, that doesn’t mean this is the end of what critics have called “right to discriminate” proposals. Just this year, both Oklahoma and Kansas passed legislation giving broad license to adoption and foster care agencies to turn away LGBTQ couples.
Ten states in total have such laws on the books, including Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia, and Texas.
Aderholt has not put out a statement following the amendment’s defeat, but even if it had survived the House floor, it was unlikely to reach President Trump’s desk. The Senate already passed its own appropriations bill, meaning the two chambers would have had to resolve any differences between the two versions.
Few expected the compromise legislation to include the anti-LGBTQ language.