Lawmakers in Kansas and Oklahoma are paving the way for faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to place children in LGBTQ+ homes. The sibling measures were passed last week and now await the governors' signature.
Historically, LGBTQ+ couples have faced many challenges in their path to become parents. States like Kansas and Oklahoma are not making that process any easier, Denise Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer at the Family Equality Council, told Refinery29.
"What these bills do is that they carve out an exception for certain child-placing agencies, allowing them to turn away families or applicants — prospective parents, if you will — if they don’t meet the agency’s religious litmus test," she said. "While [these legislations] don’t explicitly name LGBTQ families, during debate in the legislative process that's the number one example used as the reason for these bills being passed."
She stressed that the bills would legalize discrimination against LGBTQ+ families and support that structure with taxpayers' dollars, since faith-based adoption agencies often receive local and federal funding.
According to Brogan-Kator, this type of "license to discriminate" bills sprung up after marriage equality was made possible through the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Obergefell v. Hodges. While same-sex marriage was not legal, Brogan-Kator said, organizations that opposed that LGBTQ+ couples used loopholes: For example, some states limited adoption and foster care to married couples, which automatically excluded LGBTQ+ couples from even being considered as prospective parents.
But Obergefell v. Hodges changed that in 2015. Since then, at least seven other states — including Texas, Alabama, South Dakota, and Virginia — have enacted similar religious exemptions.
The vote in Kansas and Oklahoma last week was celebrated by conservative groups. Eric Teetsel, president of the Christian organization Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, said in a statement, "While other states shut down faith-based providers by establishing a radical, left-wing sexual litmus test, Kansas has made clear: everyone is welcome here."
But Brogan-Kator argues the move will be damaging to children who are in need of a home. Research shows that same-sex couples are four times more likely to adopt children and six times more likely to raise foster children than non-LGBTQ+ couples.
"These bills naturally reduce the number of homes available to foster and adopt," she said.
In Kansas, for example, the number of children in the foster system has grown every year since 2008. According to the state's Department of Children and Families, as of March there were 7,540 kids waiting for a home.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, has not said whether she would sign the legislation. On the other hand, Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer has supported Kansas' bill and is likely to sign it into law.
For Brogan-Kator, the bills mirror the anti-LGBTQ+ approach taken by the Trump administration — from President Trump's executive order banning transgender people from serving in the military to issuing a sweeping religious liberty guidance that would prioritize religious freedom over anti-discrimination protections of LGBTQ+ individuals, women, and other protected classes.
"There’s no question in my mind," she said, "that the Trump administration is emboldening these conservative factions."
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