Casey McShea, Staff Writer |
Tennessee’s state House passed a bill on Monday, April 1 that will allow adoption groups in the state to deny services to LGBTQIA+ couples based on religious reasons. The bill was passed with an overwhelming vote of 67-22 in the House of Representatives. The next step is for the bill to pass in the Senate.
The bill—HB 836—was sponsored by Republican Murfreesboro Rep. Tim Rudd. It would officially stop adoption agencies in the state of Tennessee from being “required to perform, assist, consent to, refer, or participate in any child’s placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” Current adoption agency practices would not be required to change if the bill were to become law. The legislation is intended to protect faith-based adoption agencies, rather than force all agencies to refuse services to LGBTQ couples. Some agencies already do not allow gay couples to adopt. The legislation would provide legal protections to those agencies, preventing denied applicants from suing an agency if religious beliefs or moral convictions were cited as reasons for denial. Similar adoption laws have recently been passed in Kansas and Oklahoma.
“We’re doing the same as nine other states have done,” Rudd said. “Throughout the country, these faith-based organizations have been sued to the point they’re being driven out of business due to costs.”
The legislation is not limited to adoption agencies. The bill’s directives also apply to all licensed “child-placing agencies,” which includes foster care, adoptions, group homes, and other services.
Laws such as the one passed are a part of an effort titled “Project Blitz,” a drive led by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation to pass state legislation concerning religious issues. The foundation’s site says that the project’s purpose is to “protect the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square, and to reclaim and properly define the narrative which supports such beliefs.” The website also includes a detailed handbook for state and local advocates to “bring back God to America.”
Many have spoken out against the bill, particularly Democratic representatives. Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville said, “We have children across this state looking for loving homes. Why are we wanting to do anything to prohibit a loving couple or a family of any denomination, any religion, any moral conviction from being able to care for a child and take it in and provide for it? We have got to stop discriminating against people. We have gone far enough.” Other LGBTQIA+ advocates such as the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) have been very vocal about opposing the bill. After the vote, Chris Sanders, the executive director of TEP, said that the “bill clearly opens the door to taxpayer-funded discrimination in foster care and adoption.”
“If this bill becomes law,” Sanders continued, “same-sex couples, people of various religious beliefs, and people with no religious beliefs now face the prospect of being turned away from adoption agencies that they helped fund because they are labeled morally or religiously objectionable, which leaves children and youth with longer wait times for permanent homes.”