Post submitted by Ianthe Metzger, former HRC Deputy Press Secretary
Today, HRC Alabama denounced a 6 - 1 vote by the Alabama Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee to advance S.B. 204. If passed, S.B.204 would authorize licensed, state-funded childcare service providers -- such as adoption and foster care agencies -- to discriminate in the provision of care to LGBT children and against qualified LGBT prospective adoptive or foster parents, without the government being able to respond as it otherwise would to such inappropriate, unprofessional, and discriminatory behavior. Under S.B. 204, religion could be used as an excuse to disregard the best interest of children and turn away qualified, loving families headed by LGBT couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection.
“Today, despite the estimated 5,000 children in Alabama’s foster care system, lawmakers in the Senate have proved that they would rather enshrine legal, taxpayer-funded discrimination into state law than give children in need the best chance of finding a loving home,” said Ben Needham, Director of HRC’s Project One America. “Religious organizations are entitled to their views, but taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for discriminatory or abusive care. Alabama is better than this bill, and we urge fair-minded lawmakers in the Senate to reject it, and focus on legislation that gives every child the hope of a bright future.”
S.B. 204 would enshrine special discrimination rights into Alabama law and allow licensed, publicly funded child welfare agencies to use religion to disregard the best interests of the child and prioritize anti-LGBT discrimination. An agency could turn away a single parent seeking to foster a child in need and the single parent would have no legal recourse. One of the cruelest consequences of S.B. 204 is that it would allow service providers to refuse to place foster children with members of their extended families - a practice often considered to be in the best interest of the child - based solely on the agency’s religious beliefs. A loving LGBT grandparent, for example, or a stable, welcoming LGBT relative could be deemed unsuitable under the proposed law. Furthermore, this bill could also permit an agency to refer a child to a provider of the discredited, abusive practice of so-called “conversion therapy” - and the state would not be permitted to cancel its contract with the agency or rescind its license to practice.
Bills like S.B.2014 have been widely condemned by major child advocacy groups. In a letter delivered to the members of the Alabama Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee yesterday, chief executive of five such groups -- April Dinwoodie, Chief Executive, The Donaldson Adoption Institute; Joe Kroll, Interim Executive Director, Voice for Adoption; Mary Boo, Executive Director, North American Council on Adoptable Children; Adam Pertman, President and CEO, National Center on Adoption and Permanency and John Sciamanna, Vice President of Public Policy, Child Welfare League of America -- condemned S.B. 204. They write, “The undersigned nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations are dedicated to ensuring safety, permanency and wellbeing for children and families that are connected to adoption and foster care. This includes providing leadership that improves laws, policies and practices through sound research, analysis, education and advocacy. Eliminating policy and practice barriers -- including obstacles faced by gay and lesbian individuals and couples -- to adoption for children in foster care waiting for homes is one of our priorities. As such, we are in opposition to SB 204, The Alabama Child Care Provider Inclusion Act.”
Research consistently shows that LGBT youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have already been rejected by their families of origin because of their LGBT status, and are especially vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care. By allowing for religion-based discrimination, S.B. 204 would only exacerbate the challenges faced by these young people, adding another layer of trauma to their already difficult lives.
The House version of this appalling bill, H.B 158, had a public hearing last week, but has not been scheduled for a vote. These bills are part of an onslaught of anti-LGBT bills being pushed this year by anti-equality activists around the country. HRC is currently tracking nearly 200 anti-LGBT bills in 32 states. For more information, visit: www.hrc.org/2016legislature.
In 2014, HRC launch Project One America, an initiative geared towards advancing social, institutional and legal equality in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. HRC Alabama continues to work to advance equality for LGBT Alabamians who have no statewide protections in housing, workplace, or public accommodations; and legal state recognition for their relationships and families. Through HRC Alabama, we are working toward a future of fairness every day—changing hearts, minds and laws toward achieving full equality.