DISCRIMINATION IN OKLAHOMA: Legislature Sends Anti-LGBTQ Child Welfare Bill to Governor’s Desk

Bill is first anti-LGBTQ state bill this year to head to governor’s desk.

Today, HRC condemned the Oklahoma legislature for passing SB 1140, a bill that would allow child welfare organizations -- including adoption and foster care agencies -- to turn away qualified Oklahomans seeking to care for a child in need, including LGBTQ 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. The bill has passed through both chambers following a conference committee that stripped harm-limiting amendments, and will now be sent to the governor’s desk. HRC urges Governor Mary Fallin to veto this harmful, discriminatory bill.

SB 1140 could have a sweeping, harmful impact in child welfare services by enabling discrimination against LGBTQ people, same-sex couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other qualified parents to whom an agency has an objection. The biggest barrier to placing children with families is a lack of qualified prospective parents; having the state give contractors and subcontractors a license to discriminate, thereby limiting the pool of prospective parents for no legitimate reason, is unconscionable and an unacceptable use of taxpayer dollars.

“This vote to enshrine discrimination into law is shameful,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs. “Oklahoma’s legislators are throwing kids under the bus to create a ‘license to discriminate’ against qualified, loving prospective parents. This bill does nothing to improve the outcomes for children in care. It shrinks the pool of prospective parents and is a blatant attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ Oklahomans. Now, Governor Mary Fallin must veto this bill and not allow it to harm Oklahoma, its reputation and the kids who simply want a loving, long-term home.”

“What happened on the floor of the Oklahoma House and Senate today was a disgrace,” said Troy Stevenson, Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director. “Leadership of both houses forced an unneeded, unwanted, and un-American bill onto the Governor’s desk. This measure does nothing but keep Oklahoma’s most vulnerable youth out of loving and committed homes. It is our greatest hope that Governor Fallin will show the world that the Oklahoma Standard still exists and that we do not put political posture over the health and safety of Oklahoma’s children. Governor Fallin, please veto this hateful bill.”

Earlier this session, HRC joined Freedom Oklahoma and child welfare advocates in Oklahoma City to call out this bill and its dangerous implications for youth waiting for homes in Oklahoma. HRC and Freedom Oklahoma also released a video featuring an Oklahoman and former foster youth who opposes this bill.

Many of the country’s top child welfare organizations have spoken out in opposition of the bill, including the Child Welfare League of America, North American Council on Adoptable Children, National Center for Adoption and Permanency, Foster Club and Voice For Adoption. This bill most harms children in the system who are awaiting placement in qualified, loving homes and are instead denied placement with a family due to a lack of prospective parents. Experts agree that child welfare services should be guided by the overarching principle that guides all family law: all determinations should be in the best interest of the child; this bill violates that principle.

HRC recently released a report, titled Disregarding the Best Interest of the Child: License to Discriminate In Child Welfare Services, detailing the harms of efforts to write anti-LGBTQ discrimination by child welfare agencies into law. Statistics suggest that an estimated two million LGBTQ adults in the U.S. are interested in adoption, but the LGBTQ community often remains an untapped resource when it comes to finding families for children and youth in foster care.

Research consistently shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families of origin because of their LGBTQ status, and are especially vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care. SB 1140 will only exacerbate these challenges faced by LGBTQ young people.