March 10, 2017 at 8:00 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
South Dakota governor signs first anti-LGBT law of 2017
Dennis Daugaard, gay news, Washington Blade

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R-S.D.) has signed an anti-LGBT law (Photo public domain)

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has signed into law a measure allowing taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to deny services and child placement to LGBT families out of religious objections, making him the first governor in 2017 to sign an anti-LGBT law.

Daaugard signed the measure, Senate Bill 149, with little fanfare Friday after the Republican-controlled legislature approved it by significant margins. The new law prohibits the state from taking adverse action against child placement agencies that discriminate against LGBT families, including the elimination of tax-exemptions, the imposition of fines, the cancelation of contracts or discrimination against the agency in a state benefit program.

Laura Durso, vice president of the LGBT research and communications at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement Daugaard signed legislation “shamefully targeting LGBT parents and vulnerable kids.”

“SB 149 allows religiously affiliated foster care and adoption agencies to turn away qualified LGBT parents and single moms who simply want to start families and give young people a safe, loving home,” Durso said. “Same-sex couples are six times as likely to foster than different-sex couples are, and this bill proves once again that opponents of equality are happy to put children at risk and deny them permanent homes to further their anti-LGBT agenda.”

Many child placement agencies are faith-based organizations, such as Catholic adoption agencies, but the new law makes no distinction between agencies that are religious or otherwise affiliated.

According to the Associated Press, Daugaard said before signing the bill he was concerned private child-placement agencies could be subject to a lawsuit if they denied placement to people in a “protected class,” such as members of the LGBT community. He said he hopes the new law would forestall that.

Catholic adoption agencies in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and D.C. ended adoption services after lawmakers in those jurisdictions enacted marriage equality, saying they couldn’t place children with LGBT parents. Although the organizations said they were forced to close because of same-sex marriage, they ended services on their own.

Last year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law similar legislation allowing agencies to deny child placement to LGBT families for religious reasons. Other states that have similar laws, according to the AP, are North Dakota and Virginia.

Libby Skarin, policy director of the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement she’s “deeply disappointed” Daugaard signed the measure despite pleas from these organizations to veto it.

“This discriminatory legislation takes South Dakota in the wrong direction, and sends the message that our leaders are more concerned with the desires of religious agencies than the rights of individuals and children in our state,” Skarin said.

Daugaard’s decision to sign the anti-LGBT measure into law contrasts with his veto last year of legislation that would have allowed South Dakota schools to deny transgender kids access to the public restroom consistent with their gender identity.

Local and national child welfare experts sent letters opposing SB 149, such as The Adoption Exchange, Child Welfare League of America, National Association of Social Workers and Voice for Adoption. Others who opposed the measure were family law experts and South Dakota pediatricians.

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT Project, said in a statement Daugaard’s decision to sign the bill is “deeply troubling” because it’s “only one of many bills moving through state legislatures across the country that authorizes taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT Americans.”

“These laws run contrary to one of our core American values: The rule of law, which means we are all held to and protected by the same laws,” Esseks added. “These religious exemptions laws run contrary to this belief by encouraging people to pick and choose which laws they are going to follow based on their religious beliefs.”

Other states that are considering anti-LGBT bills that would allow discrimination in the name of “religious freedom” are Texas, which is considering Senate Bill 892 and House Bill 1805; Oklahoma, which is considering House Bill 1507; and Alabama, which is considering Senate Bill 145.

The Washington Blade has placed a request with Daugaard seeking comment on his decision to sign the legislation.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • If you don’t want to serve all tax payers, don’t take taxpayer money.

  • christians want all LGBT electrocuted to “cure” them, jailed or put to death for their “god”. The core of christianity is 2nd chronicles 15 13 no different than ISIS as they worship the same “god” of Abraham. Never trust anyone claiming to be christian as they will slop sugar to your face while figuring the best way to stab you in the back.

  • This shows the moral bankruptcy of religious anti-gay bigots.

    They’re “pro-life” and yet, in the world today, there are over 92 million homeless orphans at risk of starvation and death — and these bigots want to block homeless orphans from having life-saving love, sustenance and care.

  • This is a frightened little boy.

  • Funny how “religious freedom” only extends to extremist Christians, and not to let’s say, atheists who don’t want children to be adopted into religious families, or Muslim workers who don’t want to place children in Jewish or Christian homes, or workers who don’t want to place children with parents on their 2nd or third marriage since the couples didn’t honour their marriage vows “til death do us part” witnessed by God. Or those who lived together before marriage. Etc.

    I am also wondering about the religious rights of the children. If their parents were Muslim or atheist, or Christian who embraced homosexuals as normal people beloved by God, and that is what the children’s religious beliefs are, how can the State or its agencies then decide to bar the children from living in a home concordant with their own religious beliefs? Would Christians like it if children raised as Christian were denied new Christian homes, if that did not fit with their social worker’s “religious freedom”?

    I would love to be free from the religion of these people who do not in any way represent my own religion. Where do I lobby to get state regulations stating I can discriminate against any who don’t agree with my moral precepts?

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