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Tennessee may soon become the next state to let faith-based adoption agencies refuse to place children with same-sex couples, a move that critics say penalizes children by keeping them out of loving homes.
Ten states have already passed laws that allow state-licensed child welfare agencies to refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people and same-sex couples, if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs, according to the pro-LGBTQ think tank Movement Advancement Project. In contrast, just five states and Washington, D.C. explicitly outlaw agencies from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender.
North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, and Michigan already have laws on the books that allow the agencies’ refusal on religious grounds. (Under a new settlement, however, Michigan will no longer fund agencies that won’t work with LGBTQ couples and individuals. The state’s health department must also end contracts with agencies that discriminate against prospective parents who are LGBTQ.)
Specifically, the Tennessee bill would let agencies refuse to “perform, assist, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions.” No state or local government department would be able to take action to penalize those agencies, like denying them licenses, and individuals would not let anybody sue over an agency refusal.
“Throughout the country, these faith-based organizations have been sued to the point they’re being driven out of business due to costs,” Republican state Rep. Tim Rudd said Monday, the Associated Press reported. Rudd is the bill’s co-sponsor.
The Tennessee bill passed the Republican-controlled House 67-22 on Monday, and now heads to the GOP-controlled Senate. Republican Gov. Bill Lee, a deeply religious man, hasn’t yet said whether he’d support the legislation.
"Why are we wanting to do anything to prohibit a loving couple or a family of any denomination, any religion, any moral conviction from being able to care for a child and take it in and provide for it?” Democratic state Rep. John Ray Clemmons asked, according to the Tennesseean. "We have got to stop discriminating against people. We have gone far enough."
Since 2010, the number of Tennessee parents with terminated parental rights has spiked by 51 percent, while the number of children has increased by 56 percent, thanks in part to the devastation of the opioid crisis, according to the Tennessee Alliance for Kids.
Cover: Keith Swafford, left, and Jon Coffee join hands as they are married by Pastor Chris Buice at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church Friday, June 26, 2015, in Knoxville, Tenn. They are the first same-sex couple to be married in Knoxville after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide. (Jessica Tezak/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)