Parents seeking to adopt children in Texas could be rejected by state-funded or private agencies with religious objections to them being Jewish, Muslim, gay, single, or interfaith couples, under a proposal in the Republican-controlled state legislature.
Five states have passed similar laws protecting faith-based adoption organizations that refuse to place children with gay parents or other households on religious grounds. The proposed Texas rule would extend to state-funded agencies. Only South Dakota’s measure is similarly sweeping.
The bill was scheduled for debate and approval on Saturday in the Texas state house, but lawmakers became bogged down with other matters. It now is expected to come up next week.
Republican sponsors of the Texas bill say it is designed to support the religious freedom of adoption agencies and foster care providers. Many such agencies are private and faith-based but receive state funds.
Opponents say the bill will rob 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 US 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.”
James Frank, the state representative who authored the bill, said it was designed to address the state’s foster care crisis by making “reasonable accommodations so everyone can participate in the system”.
“Everyone is welcome,” said Frank, a Republican from Wichita Falls, near Texas’s border with Oklahoma. “But you don’t have to think alike to participate.”
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 failed 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, she said, means child welfare organizations could send LGBT kids to conversion therapy, a treatment designed to turn people heterosexual which the Pan American Health Organization calls a “serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people”. Agencies could also deny young people access to contraception and abortions.
“If a 17-year-old who is sexually active wants birth control, the burden to prove that constitutional right is on the child,” said Bryant. “They don’t have their parents advocating for them and are supposed to go it alone against the system.”
More than 100 children died in Texas child protective services last year, when a judge had already ruled that the system violated youngsters’ constitutional rights by leaving them more troubled when they left the system than when they entered it. The Republican governor, Greg Abbott, made fixing foster care an “emergency” priority and the state legislature has increased funding while backing a number of major changes.
Frank said most adoptions happened through the state’s child protective services, which would not be subject to the religious freedom mandate, though outside agencies that receive state funding would be. He said his bill “codifies” the choices adoption agencies were already making as they selected parents.
“My guess is if you have an LGBT agency they’re going to pick an LGBT family, and if you have a Baptist agency they may be more likely to pick a Baptist family,” Frank said. “They’re free to do that and should be free to do that.”
His proposal is just one of 24 pending bills in the Texas legislature that LGBT advocates say encourage discrimination.