Civil rights organizations have been racing into action to stop an amendment to a federal spending bill would allow child welfare agencies, even those that receive government funds, a "license to discriminate" against prospective parents who offend their religious beliefs. The amendment was voted into the bill by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee this week, with the vote coming out 29-23 along party lines. Scott Taylor of Virginia was the only Republican to vote against the amendment.
LGBT and other civil rights organizations have since been focused on making sure this amendment does not make its way into the final bill by starting campaigns, reaching out to constituents, and publicizing how dangerous the amendment is to LGBT parents as well as kids looking for homes.
"We have been working extremely actively both on the national level and in the states to fight this effort. It's really, really important for people to immediately call their representatives and senators and say this must be stripped out of any House Appropriations Bill and must not be added to any Senate Appropriations Bill," said Julie Kruse (pictured above, left) of the Family Equality Council. "This is a poison pill amendment. It is an authorization bill that has no business being in an appropriations bill. It needs to come out of the House and stay out of the Senate and stay out of any final bill. It's extremely dangerous."
The Family Equality Council has partnered with organizations such as Lambda Legal, PFLAG, and Voice for Adoption to create the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign. The campaign is over 400 members strong and is working with LGBT and other civil rights organizations as well as businesses to fight this amendment on the state and federal level.
"This has actually been floated in other bills, and whenever we've heard of it we've been able to shut it down. But this one was done very sneakily, very last-minute. So we're gonna have to continue fighting it now," Kruse said.
Other organizations have recognized the danger of this amendment and seek to inform members of Congress of the extent of discrimination the amendment would allow.
"At this point in the appropriations bill process, HRC is working with a coalition of organizations -- including child welfare advocates -- to educate members of Congress on the truly harmful impact this license to discriminate would have," said Stephen Peters (above, center), senior national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. "If the amendment remains in the final bill, it would grant a 'license to discriminate' in the provision of child welfare services, allowing child welfare placing agencies using taxpayer money to turn away qualified prospective parents -- including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, and more -- for reasons that have nothing to do with the best interest of the child in need. It's absolutely imperative that members of Congress reject this discriminatory amendment and not include it in the final appropriations bill."
Organizations such as the Natioanl LGBTQ Task Force are also working with members of Congress to make sure this bill does not progress any further while it includes the discriminatory language.
"The Task Force takes these anti-equality bills very seriously," said Alex Morash, media and public relations director. "We are talking with our allies in Congress. We are asking the tens of thousands of faith leaders and Task Force supporters to join us in urging congressional leaders to stop this antifamilies bill,"
Should the amendment make its way into the final bill, more than just LGBT children and prospective parents are put at risk.
And as the language in this bill is broader than that of any laws that condone discrimination on the state level, some fear that it will include discrimination based on marital status, allowing organizations to turn away single parents looking to adopt. Since 28 percent of prospective parents looking to adopt from the foster care system are single -- and that number is higher in minority communities -- experts fear there will be a racial aspect to this condoned discrimination. The bill also may allow parents to force their religious practices on children who do not share their beliefs and even subject LGBT kids to conversion therapy.
"We're talking about undermining many, many kinds of protections, and discrimination not just based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but also on religion, for children or parents, and definitely on marital status," Kruse said.
Grassroots organizations such as the Center for Action Network, a coalition for LGBT community centers based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are using their resources to reach out to constituents in the hope of making change.
"The ones [congressmen and senators] pay most attention to are their constituents, so we want to energize those groups back at home to take action and make their voice very loud and clear that this is not OK," said Terry Stone (above, right), a representative of the coalition. "Discrimination like this hurts all of us."
The network has been working with over 200 centers and communicating with its 100,000 subscribers to make sure that constituents are raising their voices.
"It's going to take all of us working together and raising our voices to tell our Congress folks that this is not right and it's not OK to discriminate, and we need to do all we can to create new, loving families for those who are looking for ways to be adopted," Stone said.
Activists say action against this bill is crucial, as its passage would encourage efforts to discriminate against LGBT people on several other fronts.
"For our opponents, this is the beginning. This is a wedge issue that they found some leverage on," Kruse said. "They start with adoption, but they want to strip us of marriage equality and get us to what [Supreme Court Justice Ruth] Bader Ginsburg called 'marriage equality lite.' And they want government-funded services that don't have to serve people of certain religions, don't have to serve gay people, don't have to serve transgender people, don't have to serve single people. And that's the scary part of this. We need to stop it here. We need to stop it now."