Parents seeking to adopt children in Texas could soon be rejected by state-funded or private agencies with religious objections to them being Jewish, Muslim, gay, single, or interfaith couples, under a proposal advancing in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Five other states have passed similar laws protecting faith-based adoption organizations that refuse to place children with gay parents or other households on religious grounds but Texas’ rule extends to state-funded agencies. Only South Dakota’s is similarly sweepingly.
Republican sponsors of Texas’ bill, which is poised to pass Saturday in the state House, say it is designed to support the religious freedom of adoption agencies and foster care providers. Many of the agencies and are private and faith-based but receive state funds. But opponents say it robs children of stable homes while funding discrimination with taxpayer dollars.
“This would allow adoption agencies to turn away qualified, loving parents who are perhaps perfect in every way because the agency has a difference in religious belief,” said Catherine Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. “This goes against the best interest of the child.”
The bill also blatantly violates the Constitution, Oakley added.
“As a governmental entity, Texas is bound to treat people equally under the law,” said Oakley. “This is a violation of equal protection under the law.”
State Rep James Frank, the bill’s author, said it’s designed to address the state’s foster care crisis by making “reasonable accommodations so everyone can participate in the system.”
“Everyone is welcome. But you don’t have to think alike to participate,” said Frank, a Republican from rural Wichita Falls, near Texas’ border with Oklahoma. Suzanne Bryant, an Austin-based adoption attorney who works with LGBT clients and was one of the first individuals to have a legal same-sex marriage in Texas, said the bill fails to provide alternatives for prospective parents rebuffed by adoption agencies.
“Say you call an agency and say, ‘I’m Jewish,’ and it’s a Catholic agency and they hang up on you,” said Bryant. “The bill says you can be referred to another agency, but there’s no mechanism to set that up.”
Not only could agencies turn away hopeful parents under the religious freedom provision, but they could require children in the foster care system to comply with their faith-based requirements, said Bryant. That means child welfare organizations could send LGBT kids to conversion therapy, a treatment designed to turn people straight which the Pan American Health Organization calls a “serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.” And they could deny young people contraception and abortions.