Adoption legislation in Tennessee opponents say would enable discrimination against LGBTQ families is on its way to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee, who’s expected to the sign the bill in the aftermath of approval Tuesday by the state Senate.
In its first bill of the year, the Tennessee Senate approved HB 836, which would allow adoption agencies to refuse placement into LGBTQ homes on the basis of religious objections. The Senate passed the bill 20-6.
Lee’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the bill. According to the Tennessean, a Lee spokesperson “confirmed that the governor would be signing the bill as soon as it reaches his desk.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Rose (R-Covington), prohibits requiring private licensing child-placement agencies to participate in child placement “that would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions.”
The Tennessee House approved the legislation in April 2019, so the measure now heads to the governor’s desk. Despite the report indicating Lee will sign the legislation, LGBTQ advocacy groups are already calling for a veto.
“Passing a bill that funds discrimination in adoption and foster care is one of the worst ways to start a legislative session,” Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said in a statement. “Despite a vigorous debate on the bill, the best interests of children in Tennessee lost today. We join friends and allies across the country in calling for the governor to veto the bill.”
Although nothing in Tennessee state law or federal law as of now is stopping adoption agencies from refusing placement into LGBTQ homes, the measure could compromise municipal ordinances against anti-LGBT discrimination. According to the 2019 Human Rights Campaign Municipal Index, Tennessee with bans on anti-LGBTQ discrimination in municipal services are Chattanooga, Clarksville, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville.
The legislation is similar to other laws enacted by other the states in recent years allowing taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to decline to place children into LGBTQ homes over religious objections. Other states are Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, condemned the Tennessee legislation in a statement for approving the anti-LGBTQ bill.
“Lawmakers in Tennessee used some of the first minutes of their legislative session to enshrine discrimination into law,” David said. “These legislators are disregarding the best interests of kids in the child welfare system to create a ‘license to discriminate’ against qualified, loving prospective parents. This bill does nothing to improve the outcomes for children in care, shrinks the pool of prospective parents and is a blatant attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ Tennesseans. It is shameful that one of the first orders of business in Nashville was to target LGBTQ people. We urge Tennesseans to make their voices heard in opposition to this bill as it heads to the governor’s desk.”