Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed legislation into law that would enable taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to refuse placement into LGBTQ homes over religious objections, making it the first anti-LGBTQ bill to become law in 2020.
The act of signing the legislation, HB 836, was immediately rebuked by LGBTQ rights groups, who say it amounts to legalized discrimination against LGBTQ families seeking to adopt.
“We are extremely disappointed that Gov. Lee signed HB 836 — the first anti-LGBTQ bill to be signed in 2020,” Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation, said in a statement. “Tennessee will now allow service providers to turn away qualified adoptive and foster parents simply because they do not meet an agency’s religious or moral litmus test while thousands of children in Tennessee’s child welfare system are waiting for a loving home.”
The Tennessee state legislature sent the measure to the governor’s desk earlier this month after Senate approval. The House had passed the legislation in April 2019.
Lee’s signature was expected. His office had signaled he’d pen his name to the legislation immediately after the state legislature approved it.
According to the Associated Press, the bill was quietly signed into law “with no fanfare or announcement from Lee’s office.” It’s the first piece of legislation to become law this year in Tennessee.
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.”
Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, said in a statement the new law will lead to harm for families and children throughout Tennessee.
“We strongly oppose Gov. Lee’s decision and urge him to deeply and prayerfully consider the damage and harm of this bill, which could do a colossal disservice to the many children in Tennessee waiting to be adopted by safe and loving families,” Beach-Ferrara said. “It opens the door to taxpayer-funded adoption agencies turning away potential parents just because of who they are. It’s bad for kids, bad for LGBTQ people, and bad for the state overall.”
According to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, an estimated 230,000 LGBTQ adults and 11,000 same-sex couples are living in Tennessee. Of those same-sex couples, 20 percent are raising children and 6 percent of the same-sex couples there are raising adopted children, compared to 4 percent of different-sex couples.
Although nothing in Tennessee state law or federal law previously stopped 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.
“It’s disturbing that Gov. Bill Lee signed legislation that will harm children in Tennessee,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. “Elected officials should protect all of their constituents, not just some. Now, Tennessee has the shameful distinction of being the first state to pass an anti-LGBTQ bill into law this year. 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.”
The new Tennessee law is similar to laws recently enacted in other states at the behest of religious-affiliated adoption agencies, such as Catholic charities, who believe LGBTQ homes are inappropriate for raising children. States with these laws are Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota.
But some states are beginning to approach the issue differently. In Virginia, legislation has been introduced that would reverse the state law allowing religious-based discrimination in adoption. In Georgia, House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, said he opposes an anti-LGBTQ adoption bill and would block its movement.
Meanwhile, the major focus of anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures in 2020 is transgender youth. Several states are considering legislation that would ban transition-related care for transgender youth, including South Dakota, which is considering a bill that would criminalize such treatment. Other states are considering that would inhibit transgender kids from participating in school athletics.