New legislation introduced in both the House and Senate was criticized on Monday by national LGBT groups as a means to allow discrimination against same-sex couples seeking to adopt children.
The bill, known as the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014, was introduced last week by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who billed the measure as means to prevent faith-based organizations from being excluded from providing adoption and foster care services based on their religious beliefs.
“Faith-based charities and organizations do an amazing job of administering adoption, foster care and a host of other services,” said Enzi in a statement. “Limiting their work because someone might disagree with what they believe only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together.”
But LGBT groups pounced on the legislation as means to allow Hobby Lobby-like carve outs within the law, enabling faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking to become parents.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, the legislation would allow religiously affilated adoption agencies to deny services to gay and lesbian couples wanting to adopt or foster a child. Additionally, it would enable religious adoption agencies from non-Christian faiths to deny services to straight, Christian couples, or a single parent seeking to foster a child, HRC said.
Ellen Kahn, director of the HRC Foundation’s Children, Youth & Families Program, said the bill has nothing to do with protecting the religious liberties of faith-based organizations.
“It’s increasingly clear that, post-Hobby Lobby, some in positions of power believe that religious freedom should only belong to a few,” Kahn said. “Taxpayer funds should not be used to discriminate and too many children need loving families right now for our elected officials to be playing these kinds of dangerous political games. This bill has nothing to do with faith and it must be condemned.”
The House version of the legislation has as of Tuesday 31 co-sponsors, each of whom are Republicans, such as anti-LGBT lawmakers like Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) and Vicki Hartzler (R-Mo.). Also among the co-sponsors is Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), who recently became the fourth sitting U.S. House Republican to come out in support of civil marriage equality. As of Tuesday, the Senate bill doesn’t have any co-sponsors.
In a statement to the Washington Blade, Kelly responded to the criticism by saying the bill is “not ‘anti’ anyone or anything except government discrimination against child welfare service providers.”
“Nothing in the Inclusion Act prevents any parents or any child welfare service provider from participating in child welfare services — nothing,” Kelly said. “It simply ensures that a provider will not be excluded in any manner from participating in such services on the basis of its religious and moral beliefs, which is one reason the Act is called the Inclusion Act.”
Kelly added the bill is “100 percent inclusive” and — despite differing social and political views — “tolerance must come first” to ensure a positive outcome for children.
“Tolerance on this issue means accepting that different providers with different worldviews pursuing the noble work of finding families for children is ideal,” Kelly said. “It means greater choice for parents and more positive outcomes for the greatest number of children. Debate is constructive, but we must make sure it stays focused on the subjects of this legislation, which are the young, innocent children around our country waiting for a home.”
The Blade has also placed a request with Enzi’s office to respond to LGBT criticism of the legislation.
Also against the bill is the LGBT group known as the Family Equality Council, which noted the bill is spearheaded by anti-LGBT Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation.
“It becomes more evident with each advance we make towards equality, that the opposition would rather continue enforcing discrimination than protecting children,” said Family Equality Council Executive Director Gabriel Blau. “The implications of this bill are broad and sweeping and could serve as a barrier to placements not just with LGBT people but also with anyone who is single, has been divorced or who practices a different religion.”
In contrast to the religious freedom bill, the Family Equality Council highlighted the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, legislation sponsored by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) in the House and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in the Senate aimed at ensuring adoption agencies can’t discriminate against LGBT families.
“We need to open up more homes to foster children, not less,” said Family Equality Council Director of Public Policy, Emily Hecht-McGowan. “All major professional child welfare associations have stated as fact — that LGBT parents are good parents. We must focus on removing barriers, not constructing new ones, so that these children have a fighting chance to find permanent, forever homes to call their own.”