Just hours after Oklahoma signed an anti-LGBTQ adoption bill into law, Troy Stevenson was on the phone with his lawyers.
Stevenson is the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, one of the advocacy groups on the frontlines of opposing State Bill 1140. That law, which would permit faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to turn away same-sex couples, was approved by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday night.
Fallin was widely expected to sign the legislation after it passed with wide majorities in the House and Senate.
As state lawmakers were debating the proposal earlier this month, Stevenson warned its passage would “cost the state of Oklahoma business revenue.” He claimed companies like Amazonwhich has been looking to open its next center in a state with LGBTQ-affirming lawswould not be “interested in relocating or expanding their operations in a state that actively discriminates.”
That’s precisely what advocates believe SB 1140 does.
“While we are deeply disappointed that Governor Fallin chose to sign discrimination into law, we are more concerned about the childrendesperately looking for homesthat will be harmed by this disgraceful legislation,” Stevenson said in a statement.
He predicted that as a result of the bill’s passage, “countless young people will be stigmatized by state-sanctioned hate.”
Toby Jenkins, executive director of Oklahomans for Equality, called SB 1140 “reprehensible.” In a statement shared with INTO, Jenkins claimed the legislation will permit even placement agencies who receive state and federal funding to “declare their ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ as a reason for rejecting LGBTQ adoptive and foster families.”
“The same measure will allow such agencies to refuse to place LGBTQ youth in foster or adoptive homes, instead leaving them to languish in state shelters,” he said. “This is abhorrent and unacceptable.”
“This law will be challenged in court, and it will be found to be unconstitutional,” Jenkins added.
As queer and trans advocacy groups in Oklahoma pursue legal action to overturn the law, nearly every leading civil rights organization has come out to oppose SB 1140. The media watchdog group GLAAD called it “heartless and un-American,” while the ACLU claimed the legislation is “anti-family, anti-children, and anti-First Amendment.”
“Oklahoma has now joined a small group of states that have broken the cardinal rule of child welfarethat the needs of children should come first,” said Family Equality Council CEO Stan Sloan in a press release.
“Granting agencies a license to discriminate hurts all children waiting for a forever home by reducing the pool of potential parents, allowing taxpayer-funded providers to refuse to place children with close relatives who happen to be LGBTQ and permitting discrimination against potential parents of another faith,” he continued.
To date, seven states have passed laws allowing faith-based placement centers to refuse services to same-sex couples: Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia.
Comparing Oklahoma’s bill to the Virginia law passed in 2012, Fallin claimed SB 1140 would benefit the state.
“The bill will help continue Oklahoma’s successful placement of children with a broad array of loving families,” she said in a statement. “In a day and time when diversity is becoming a core value to society because it will lead to more options, we should recognize its value for serving Oklahoma also because it leads to more options for loving homes to serve Oklahoma children.”
Catholic groups which have supported the legislation agreed it would actually help children by expanding the options for placement in the state.
When the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in 2015, faith-based adoption and foster care agencies in localities like California, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. closed their doors to avoid having to place children in LGBTQ households. By protecting their right to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs, supporters say it encourages placing agencies to do business in Oklahoma.
“The new law will bring more adoption services to the state and allow crucial faith-based agencies to continue their decades-long tradition of caring for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable children,” claimed Oklahoma Archbishop Paul Coakley and Bishop David Konderla said in a press release.
The pair added that they were “grateful for Gov. Fallin’s support of religious liberty.”
But as INTO previously reported, Catholic groups have been strong-arming state lawmakers into passing anti-LGBTQ adoption bills by threatening to close up shop if the discriminatory laws aren’t introduced. In neighboring Kansas, Catholic Charities threatened to cease placement services unless the state approved State Bill 284, a proposal similar to Oklahoma’s SB 1140.
The national charity organization urged its supporters to write to their state representatives asking them to back SB 284.
The gambit worked. After SB 284 passed in the Kansas House and Senate, Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer vowed to sign the legislation, citing the importance of religious groups in finding youth loving homes. He called Catholic Charities “key to the fabric of our communities” in a statement.
As the state prepares to follow Oklahoma’s lead in passing its anti-LGBTQ adoption law, Catholic groups have placed blame on queer and trans advocates for forcing them to discriminate in the first place.
“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,” said Director of the Kansas Catholic Conference Michael Schluttloffel in a public statement.
Polls show a majority of the public disagrees with that assertion, widely opposing the refusal of adoptions on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. More than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) claimed in a September 2017 survey that placement agencies which receive taxpayer dollars should not be permitted to turn away LGBTQ couples if they cite faith-based objections.
Despite its widespread unpopularity, SB 1140 is set to become law in November, but advocates pledged to ensure it never sees the light of day.
“Make no mistake, we will fight for the most vulnerable Oklahomans targeted by this law,” Stevenson claimed. “Our message to Gov. Fallin and the lawmakers who championed this travesty is simple: we’ll see you in court.”
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