Texas lawmakers this week advanced two pieces of anti-LGBT legislation, one allowing discrimination by adoption agencies, another aimed at preventing transgender students from participating in high school sports.
The Texas House of Representatives approved a bill that would allow faith-based adoption agencies, including those with state contracts, to turn away prospective parents who pose a conflict with an agency's religious dogma.
This would mean state-funded discrimination against a host of groups, including LGBT people, single people, interfaith couples, and members of minority faiths, opponents of the bill say. The House passed the measure, House Bill 3859, Tuesday by a vote of 94-51, and the state Senate is considering similar legislation, the Houston Chronicle reports.
"HB 3859 is yet another example of Texas legislators' coordinated efforts to pursue discrimination against LGBTQ people instead of focusing on the best interest of all Texans," said Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, and an adoptive and foster parent, in a press release. "If signed into law, this bill would most harm the children in Texas' child welfare system -- kids who need a loving, stable home. Discrimination under law is unacceptable. The Senate must recognize this bill for what it is: an attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ Texans, this time targeting some of Texas' most vulnerable residents: children in the child welfare system."
"It's horrific that the Texas House would allow state-funded or private adoption agencies to use religious exemptions as a weapon to ban qualified LGBTQ families from adopting a child," added GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. "As a mother, it's infuriating to see anti-LGBTQ politicians do literally anything, including harming a child's future, to drive their discriminatory anti-LGBTQ political agendas forward."
The bill's author, Republican Rep. James Frank, said it is simply about "reasonable accommodations," according to the Chronicle. Frank, an adoptive parent, said he and his wife told an agency they wanted a boy who was older than 8, and an agency was willing to fulfill their request. "The fact that we make reasonable accommodations allowed me to participate, and I think that's the same case," he said. "As long as we are not asking people to do unreasonable things, then we simply add to our capacity with people from all walks of life."
About 25 percent of the state's adoption providers are faith-based. Supporters of the bill noted that in some states, faith-based providers, such as Catholic Charities, have ceased handling adoption services rather than comply with antidiscrimination laws.
Texas has a serious backlog of children waiting to be adopted, the Chronicle reports. About 3,800 children in state care are eligible for adoption, and the state is housing some in government buildings because there is a shortage of foster homes. "Advocates say the growing backlog has endangered Texas's most vulnerable children, such as the Houston teen in foster care who was killed last month in a collision with a van after she left a state office where she had slept," the paper reports.
HB 3859 will only make the situation worse, opponents said. "We're now taking the consideration of the providers over the best interests of the child," Democratic Rep. Jennifer Farrar said, according to the Chronicle.
Alabama recently passed a law protecting the licensure of adoption agencies that have religious objections to placing children with certain parents, but it does not apply to agencies receiving state or federal funds.
The other measure, Senate Bill 2095, received final approval in that chamber Wednesday and now goes to the House. It would allow the state's governing body for high school sports, the University Interscholastic League, to bar students taking doctor-prescribed hormone therapy from participating in interscholastic sports, effectively preventing transgender students from competing, The Texas Tribune reports.
The bill came after a 17-year-old transgender boy, Mack Beggs, won a state girls' wrestling championship while taking testosterone. Because he is still listed as female on his birth certificate, he cannot participate in boys' sports.
"This bill would permit the UIL [to bar] athletes like Mack because of the argument that their health-based treatment would create an unfair advantage and therefore discriminate against trans athletes considering most trans athletes don't have immediate access to have their birth certificates changes appropriately," said Democratic Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who proposed an amendment requiring the league to adopt trans-inclusive policies similar to the National Collegiat Athletic Association's, the Tribune reports. The amendment did not pass, and the bill now goes to the House.
"It's discouraging that Texas lawmakers appear so fixated on singling out LGBT people -- particularly transgender youth -- for discrimination," said Kasey Suffredini, Freedom for All Americans' acting CEO and president of strategy, in a press release.
There are several other anti-LGBT bills pending in the legislature, including several "license to discriminate" measures, which would allow businesses and people in various occupations, such as mental health, child welfare, and govenment service, to turn away LGBT people.