The Tennessee House of Representatives Monday passed a bill that would allow adoption agencies, even those that receive state funds, to discriminate against people who pose a conflict with the agency’s religious beliefs, including same-sex couples, members of other faiths, and more.
House Bill 836 passed by a vote of 67-22, with three members not voting, The Tennessean reports. It now goes to the Senate, where a committee hearing is scheduled today.
It states that no licensed agency would have to participate in a child placement that would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” The state would be prevented from denying agencies a license because they acted on these beliefs, and individuals would not be allowed to base a lawsuit on such discrimination.
The legislation is part of what Tennessee LGBTQ activists have dubbed the “Slate of Hate.” Several anti-LGBTQ bills are pending in the state, including one aimed at undermining antidiscrimination policies – it would prevent the state or city governments from considering a business’s policy on the matter when making grants or contracts. It has passed the House and awaits a vote in the Senate. An anti-marriage equality bill has been introduced but is stalled, and a bill expanding the state’s indecent exposure law has been stripped of its anti-transgender elements.
The adoption bill “clearly opens the door to taxpayer-funded discrimination in foster care and adoption,” Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, told The Tennessean after the vote.
“If this bill becomes law, same-sex couples, people of various religious beliefs, and people with no religious beliefs now face the prospect of being turned away from adoption agencies that they helped fund because they are labeled morally or religiously objectionable, which leaves children and youth with longer wait times for permanent homes,” he said.
Legislators in Kansas and Oklahoma passed similar bills last year, and their governors signed them into law. Michigan recently went the other way, agreeing not to fund agencies that refuse to work with same-sex couples or LGBTQ individuals; the agreement came in the settlement of a lawsuit filed over a bill passed in 2015 allowing agencies to still receive funding if they engage in anti-LGBTQ discrimination.