AL House Committee Advances Bill Allowing Discrimination by State-Licensed Child Placing Agencies

by Ianthe Metzger

MONTGOMERY, AL - Today, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Alabama, strongly condemned the Alabama House Health Committee’s vote to advance H.B. 158, an outrageous bill that would allow state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT youth and families. If passed, H.B. 158 would authorize state-licensed and funded adoption and foster care placing agencies, to discriminate against qualified LGBT prospective adoptive or foster parents, without the government being able to respond as it otherwise could to such inappropriate, unprofessional, and discriminatory behavior. 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.

“With an estimated 5,000 children in Alabama’s foster care system, lawmakers seem focused on enshrining discrimination rather than allowing these kids the opportunity to find the loving homes they all desperately need,” said Ben Needham, Director of HRC’s Project One America. “Religious liberty is a right afforded to all religious organizations by the U.S. Constitution, but it is unacceptable for the state to allow taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars to fund discriminatory or abusive practices. We implore elected officials to give every child the best chance to have the bright future they deserve, and to reject this discriminatory proposal.”

H.B. 158 would enshrine special discrimination rights into Alabama law and allow state-license and funded child placing agencies to prioritize discrimination over the best interests of the children. An agency could turn away a single parent seeking to foster a child in need and the single parent would have no legal recourse. Or, an agency could  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.

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, H.B. 158 would only exacerbate the challenges faced by these young people, adding another layer of trauma to their already difficult lives.

The Senate version of this appalling bill, S.B. 204, which applies to state-funded and state-licensed child care service providers, advanced out of the Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee last month, and could be voted on by the full Senate as early as this week. Chief executives of Major child advocacy 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 -- came out strongly against S.B. 204 in a letter that was hand delivered to members of the Senate Committee ahead of the Senate 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 34 states. For more information, At least half of these bills have been beaten back across the country.

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.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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