Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer today signed into law a bill allowing faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, even those with state contracts, to turn away prospective parents who pose a conflict with their religious beliefs, something that's expected to mean discrimination against LGBT people and many others.
The bill is similar to one signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in Oklahoma a week ago. It lets agencies refuse placements "for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement of such child would violate such agency's sincerely held religious beliefs."
Colyer, a Republican, signed the bill at Youth Horizons Kinloch Price Boys Ranch, a Christian nonprofit agency "that offers residential care for boys with severe individual and family challenges," The Wichita Eagle reports. Both houses of the legislature approved the measure, Senate Bill 284, this month.
"What I want Kansans to know is this is about fairness and that we are protecting everyone," Colyer said, according to the Eagle. "It's not about discrimination, it's about fairness. We're looking after those kids that need a forever home."
Not so, say some LGBT and adoption advocates. "It is completely unfair that those same people who are going to be discouraged from fostering and adopting are going to be paying taxes into the state that are going to be used to pay agencies to do work that would discriminate against them," Lori Ross, founder and CEO of FosterAdopt Connect, told the paper. "There's nobody, myself included, that says a religious-based organization doesn't have a right to practice whatever their deeply held religious beliefs are. When it becomes a problem is when public dollars are being used to fund a service."
"Governor Colyer promised Kansas he was not going to tolerate discrimination of any kind," Tom Witt, director of Equality Kansas, told the Eagle. "He had an opportunity to back that up by vetoing this bill, but instead he has proven his words are meaningless."
"Kansas now joins Oklahoma as the only states to allow anti-LGBTQ state bills to become law this year," added JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, in a press release. "Kansas lawmakers, from the legislature to the governor, are clearly stating that it is more important to them to discriminate against their own constituents than it is to find loving homes for children in need. Make no mistake: this law will harm the kids, families and reputation of this state."
"It is incredible and unconscionable that states across the country would rather hurt foster kids -- children at their most vulnerable -- by denying them loving homes just because prospective foster parents might be a same-sex couple, or Jewish, or any number of other irrelevant and discriminatory rationales," said a statement issued by Currey Cook, counsel and director of Lambda Legal's Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project. And make no mistake: this is not simply about the sexual orientation or gender identity of prospective foster or adoptive parents. In South Carolina, a government-funded foster care agency cited a Jewish family's faith in rejecting their involvement in the agency's programming, and a Catholic agency is suing the City of Philadelphia to block enforcement of that city's nondiscrimination ordinance."
Even some Republicans objected to the bill. "This is a moment of truth for Jeff Colyer today," Jim Barnett, a former state senator who is challenging Colyer for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, told the Eagle. "He signed discrimination into Kansas law and showed Kansans that the people that controlled Brownback control him."
That would be former Gov. Sam Brownback, a deeply conservative, anti-LGBT politician who left the governor's office to become U.S. ambassador for religious freedom under Donald Trump. Colyer, who had been lieutenant governor, succeeded him and is now seeking to be elected in his own right. The primary election will be August 7, with several candidates seeking each party's nomination, and the general election will be November 6.
Some other Republican contenders praised the bill. "Faith-based adoption agencies can continue the great work they do knowing they will always be able to operate in accordance with their faith in Kansas," Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and candidate for the gubernatorial nomination, told the Eagle.