State-funded adoption agencies backing Texas legislation that would sanction the rejection of prospective parents on religious grounds already routinely deny non-Christian, gay, and unmarried applicants because they are wary of their beliefs or lifestyle. But now they also want legal cover in case of potential lawsuits.
The private organizations, which are paid by the state to place foster children with adoptive families, want to continue the practice and are seeking legal protections through Texas’ “Freedom to Serve Children Act,” which is up for consideration today in the GOP-controlled House. If it clears the House, the bill heads to the even more conservative Senate and then for an approval signature by Gov. Greg Abbott, who has not commented on the bill.
The bill would be the nation’s second allowing state-funded adoption agencies to reject families on religious grounds. South Dakota passed similar legislation in March but it’s too soon to measure its practical effects. While the Texas proposal may not pass constitutional muster, that hasn’t stopped the state’s lawmakers before, who have recently approved a voter ID law and abortion restrictions that were overturned in court.
Randy Daniels, vice-president of Child and Family Services for the Dallas-based Christian child welfare organization Buckner International, said religious agencies are terrified of lawsuits for turning away parents. “We want to make sure we can practice within the framework of our sincerely held religious beliefs,” said Daniels.
Buckner only accepts Christian heterosexual couples who have been married for at least four years, in addition to some single individuals — which is more liberal than many other faith-based groups, which refuse single parents, said Daniels.
“These are our requirements, and we’re clear, this is just who we are,” said Daniels. “We want to make sure that groups like Buckner continue to have a place at the table because we bring solutions.”
The state’s child welfare system is overburdened with about 3,800 children currently up for adoption. Private firms receive state funding to handle the “vast majority” of adoptions, said Patrick Crimmins, a Department of Family and Prot ective Services spokesman.
Republican sponsors of Texas’ bill say it is designed to retain providers by shielding them from possible court fights. “We want to make reasonable accommodations so everyone can participate in the system,” said state Rep. James Frank of Wichita Falls. “Everyone is welcome. But you don’t have to think alike to participate.”
Megan Lestino, vice-president of public policy for the National Adoption Council, said she knows of faith-based adoption agencies denying LGBT and other prospective parents around the country — which upsets families but does not violate the law unless the state fails to present other options.
“Equal protection requires that there’s another option for every family,” said Lestino. “And there typically is some option for every family.”
Four states have passed legislation protecting private adoption agencies only, which Cooper said was seen by some to “codify” existing practices and fall within legal limits. South Dakota, and now Texas, seek to go further.