Legislators in Oklahoma and Kansas have both passed bills that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to enforce their religious beliefs in placement without loss of state contracts, meaning they could discriminate against LGBT clients while using taxpayer funds.
The Oklahoma House approved that state’s bill Thursday afternoon by a vote of 56-21, NBC News reports; it had been approved by the state Senate earlier. It now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, who has not said whether she will sign it. The Kansas House approved its measure Thursday afternoon and the state Senate concurred Friday morning; Gov. Jeff Colyer, also a Republican, has expressed support for the legislation.
LGBT rights groups were quick to denounce the bills, which are the first anti-LGBT measures to pass in any state legislature this year. “If these bills are signed into law, Oklahoma and Kansas 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 Stan J. Sloan, CEO of Family Equality Council, in a press release. “These ‘license to discriminate’ laws hurt all children waiting for a forever home by reducing the pool of potential parents, and would allow agencies to refuse to place children with a close relative who happens to be LGBTQ, or to refuse to work with parents of another faith.”
“These votes to enshrine discrimination into law are shameful,” added JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, in an online statement. “Oklahoma and Kansas legislators are throwing kids under the bus to create a ‘license to discriminate’ against qualified, loving prospective parents. These bills do nothing to improve the outcomes for children in care. They shrink the pool of prospective parents and are a blatant attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ Oklahomans and Kansans.” She called on the governors to veto the bills.
The bills could allow discrimination against many types of prospective parents who offend an agency’s religious beliefs — single parents, divorced and remarried parents, interfaith couples, and more, in addition to LGBT individuals and same-sex couples, Winterhof pointed out. But Oklahoma Senate Majority Leader Greg Treat, who authored his state’s legislation, mentioned that when agencies express objections to certain placements, they often cite opposition to same-sex marriage, the Family Equality Council noted.
Opponents of both states’ measures said the legislation would make the already-overloaded child welfare system even more so by making fewer people eligible to become foster or adoptive parents. But supporters said the religious protections would encourage more faith-based agencies to work with the states.
Major corporations have voiced opposition to the bills. “TechNet, representing some of the biggest names in tech, including Apple and Google, sent a letter to lawmakers in both states opposing their measures,” NBC reports. “Critics in Kansas worried that it would make the state look backward and even suggested it could hurt the economy.” “If you care about jobs, vote no on this,” said Democratic Kansas Rep. Brandon Whipple, according to the network.
Texas, Alabama, South Dakota, Virginia, and Michigan have similar laws in place, NBC reports. Michigan’s is being challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union. Some states and cities, including Illinois, Massachusetts, San Francisco, and the District of Columbia, have ceased having adoption and foster care handled by Catholic Charities because of the Roman Catholic Church’s objection to placing children with same-sex couples.