UPDATE, January 24: Gov. Bill Lee has signed the discriminatory adoption bill into law. “Tennessee has the shameful distinction of being the first state to pass an anti-LGBTQ bill into law this year,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. ”This bill does nothing to improve the outcomes for children in care, shrinks the pool of prospective parents and is a blatant attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ Tennesseans. With many months ahead in the Tennessee legislative session, Tennesseans should make their voices heard -- loudly -- to ensure that the legislature and Gov. Lee do not continue to target LGBTQ Tennesseans.”
“As this bill becomes law, Tennessee's LGBTQ community is worried about the introduction of even more discriminatory bills,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. “The governor and the legislature must put a stop to this kind of demeaning public policy.”
The governor of Tennessee says he’ll sign a bill giving faith-based adoption and foster care agencies legal cover to turn away same-sex couples and other prospective parents who offend the agencies’ religious beliefs.
The state Senate passed the bill Tuesday, in its first vote of the 2020 legislative session, following the House’s approval last April, Nashville newspaper The Tennessean reports. It would prevent the state from refusing licenses or grants to agencies that discriminate in the name of religion, and the agencies would also be protected from lawsuits. Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, plans to sign it as soon as it reaches its desk, his staff told The Tennessean.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 20-6, with all five Democrats in the chamber voting against it. One Republican, Steve Dickerson, joined the Democrats in opposing the bill, while five Republicans did not cast votes.
Dickerson and some other Republicans warned that the legislation would result in a boycott of Tennessee by businesses, sports leagues, and other event organizers. Noting events such as the NFL draft and NBA playoffs, he said, “I think we can kiss that goodbye.”
Democrat Jeff Yarbro, the Senate minority leader, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill so it would offer licensing protections and legal immunity only to agencies that don’t receive public funds. He argued that Tennessee already has strong religious freedom laws and that there is no threat to faith-based child welfare agencies.
Another Democrat, Sen. Raumesh Akbari, said she has a friend who’s in a same-sex relationship and has adopted two children. The alternative for the children was “to be essentially an orphan,” she said.
Several LGBTQ rights and children’s welfare groups issued statements condemning the bill and calling on Lee to veto it.
“Lawmakers in Tennessee used some of the first minutes of their legislative session to enshrine discrimination into law,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. “These legislators are disregarding the best interests of kids in the child welfare system to create a ‘license to discriminate’ against qualified, loving prospective parents. This bill does nothing to improve the outcomes for children in care, shrinks the pool of prospective parents and is a blatant attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ Tennesseans. It is shameful that one of the first orders of business in Nashville was to target LGBTQ people. We urge Tennesseans to make their voices heard in opposition to this bill as it heads to the governor’s desk.”
“Passing a bill that funds discrimination in adoption and foster care is one of the worst ways to start a legislative session,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. “Despite a vigorous debate on the bill, the best interests of children in Tennessee lost today. We join friends and allies across the country in calling for the governor to veto the bill.”
“Along with many visionary and hardworking leaders within Tennessee’s child welfare system, Children’s Rights worked to improve policies, programs, and outcomes for children in foster care,” said Christina Wilson Remlin, lead counsel at national children’s welfare organization Children’s Rights. “We vehemently oppose any move that would limit the number of safe and loving homes available to children who need and deserve them. We ask the advocacy and business communities and all others who have spoken out against SB 1304 in the past to renew their calls for equality and urge Governor Bill Lee to reject a bill that is bad public policy and harmful to innocent kids.”
“If Governor Lee signs this bill into law, Tennessee will join a small group of states that have broken the cardinal rule of child welfare — that the needs of children should come first,” said the Rev. Stan J. Sloan, CEO of Family Equality. “These ‘license to discriminate’ laws hurt all children waiting for a forever home by reducing the pool of potential parents, allowing agencies to refuse to place children with close relatives who happen to be LGBTQ and permitting discrimination against potential parents of another faith. We urge the governor in the strongest possible terms to veto this bill that harms Tennessee’s most vulnerable children.”
The Tennessee bill had the support of some conservative religious organizations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention. Eight states have similar laws, according to The Tennessean. There is also legislation of this type pending in West Virginia.