Photo courtesy of Mark Humphrey, AP
On the first day back in session for the Tennessee legislature, lawmakers are making headlines with the passage of the controversial HB 836/SB 1304, which allows multiple entities, including private, faith-based adoption agencies, to deny services to certain couples if they “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions.”
As part of what has been dubbed the “2020 Slate of Hate” by many LGBTQ groups, the bill prohibits:
(1) Requiring a private licensed child-placing agency to perform, assist, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions;
(2) The department of children’s services from denying an application for an initial license or renewal of a license or revoke the license of a private child-placing agency because of the agency’s objection to participating in a placement that violates the agency’s moral convictions;
(3) A state or local government entity from denying to a private licensed child-placing agency any grant, contract, or participation in a government program because of the agency’s objection to participating in a placement that violates the agency’s moral convictions; and
(4) Basing a civil action for either damages or civil relief on the refusal of a private licensed child placing agency to participate in a placement that violates the agency’s moral convictions.
20 lawmakers voted yes, while six voted no and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally declined to vote.
Senator Paul Rose, a Republican from Covington, spoke about the bill preceding the vote, stating “We know that it’s a good bill.”
“For those that say I don’t care about children,” he said, “I’ve heard that…This does not in any way restrict the rights of an agency to place a child with a family that is not what I consider a traditional family—where there’s a married mom and dad. They have the freedom to place that child where they want to…It simply states that if (an organization is) against placing a child in a home that is not a traditional married mom and dad, (they) cannot be forced to do so.”
Rose conceded that there was no current controversy warranting this bill, but explained that it was more of a preventative measure against the perceived possibility of a moral, legal battle.
“There’s been some questions about why we need this. Well today—we really don’t need this in the state of Tennessee today. We have the freedom to exercise our religious rights…We’ve got a great leadership in the state and in the White House, and that’s no a problem—but that may change. And when it does, there will be agencies that will shut down.”
Rose continued to cite several states that “ignored a bill like this,” so their adoption agencies were “forced to shut down.”
Ironically, he then mournfully listed the number of foster families and children that were subsequently denied adoption services.
Rose finished his speech by repeating “Mr. Speaker, this is a good bill.”
Not all Tennesseans agree with that opinion, however. The ACLU of Tennessee called out the bill when it was introduced last year, arguing that such a standard would be discriminatory and prevent thousands of Tennessee children from finding loving families.
“Families who want to foster or adopt should be judged by their ability to provide loving and stable homes, not because they tick all the boxes of a taxpayer-funded agency’s religious or moral conviction checklist,” ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said. “Turning away good families because they don’t satisfy one agency’s religious preferences would deny thousands of children in Tennessee’s foster care system access to the families they desperately need.”
According to the UCLA School of Law William’s Institute study, there are 10,989 same-sex couples in Tennessee–the 20th highest population of same-sex couples of all states in the U.S.
On average, there are approximately 8,000 children in Tennessee in need of foster care–but there are less than 4,000 foster families willing to provide homes for foster children, according to Tennessee Alliance for Kids.
On top of this staggering number, around 350 children are legally-free for adoption daily and are waiting for a permanent home, according to Tennessee Kids Belong. Children over eight years old who are available for adoption only have an estimated 20 percent chance of being adopted–and unfortunately, approximately 1,000 children age out of the system in Tennessee every year.
The number of children in need of families has been rising steadily since 2010, with a 51 percent increase in the number of parents whose parental rights have been terminated due to the rise of the opioid epidemic, causing a 56 percent increase in the number of children waiting to be adopted.
The numbers are not expected to decrease any time soon.
The bill will now go to Gov. Bill Lee’s office.
Watch today’s voting session below:
Lawmakers who voted yes: Paul Bailey (R); Mike Bell (R); Janice Bowling (R); Rusty Crowe (R); Ferrell Haile (R); Joey Hensley (R); Jack Johnson (R); Brian Kelsey (R); Frank Niceley (R); Mark Pody (R); Bill Powers (R); Shane Reeves (R and MTSU alumni); Kerry Roberts (R); Paul Rose (R); Steve Southerland (R); John Stevens (R); Art Swann (R); Bo Watson(R); Dawn White (R) and Ken Yager (R).
Lawmakers who voted no: Raumesh Akban (D); Steven Dickerson (R); Brenda Gilmore (D); Sara Kyle (D); Katrina Robinson (D) and Jeff Yarbro (D).
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