April 11th, 2017
South Dakota recently enacted a law that protects private adoption agencies from being sued for discrimination for refusing to place adoptive and foster children with gay couples on religious grounds. The bill in question, SB-149, makes South Dakota the first state to take this type of step since the Supreme court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. There are approximately 1,174 children in South Dakota’s foster care system who will likely be significantly impacted by this law.
The Role of SB-149
Under this new law, SB-149, state-licensed and taxpayer-funded child-placement adoption agencies will be able to disregard the best interest of involved children and deny interfaith couples, married couples, same-sex couples, and single parents from fostering or adopting. It should be noted that SB-149 makes no particular mention of LGBTQ individuals or any other belief system that might cause parental conflict. Instead, the language in question says that no child placement agency in the state of South Dakota is required to provide services that conflict with any “sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.” The measure would also allow agencies to refuse to place foster children with members of their own extended families, which is a technique often exercised to help the best of their children.
As a result of SB-149, an adoption facility would not lose its license or contract as a result of subjecting a child to practices like conversion therapy if such therapy is performed due to the religious belief of the child’s adoptive parents. One of the motivations cited by the legislature for this law is that child-placement agencies acting in the best interest of a child could have otherwise been subject to a lawsuit when denying placement to an individual in a “protected class,” which includes members of the LGBTQ community.
The Dangers Created by SB-149
A Human Rights Campaign Legal Director has said that the law endangers the best interests of vulnerable children in the foster care system as well as creates a new struggle for LGBTQ individuals. The American Civil Liberties Union has similarly released commentary that SB-149 communicates that message that the state of South Dakota is more concerned with the desires of religious agencies than the right of individuals and children. SB-149 has similarly been opposed by groups including the Adoption Exchange, Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers, and Voice for Adoption.
The Goal of the Universal Life Church
Studies have revealed that there is a large number of LGBTQ individuals in the foster system and that these individuals have encountered obstacles due to their LGBTQ status. SB-149 is expected to play a particularly influential role in the lives of these individuals. South Dakota, Michigan, North Dakota, and Virginia have passed these types of religious freedom bills for adoption and foster care agencies with the legislatures in Alabama, Texas, and Oklahoma are considering similar bills. Discrimination within the adoption system is but one of the many obstacles faced by LGBTQ individuals. The Universal Life Church aims to keep readers updated about the various issues faced by LGBTQ couples.
(image courtesy of Michal Janek)