Columns

Alabama Legislature Protects Faith-Based Adoptions; Opponents Charge LGBT Discrimination

Photo courtesy AP Images.

Alabama Rep. Patricia Todd (D) told GOP Rep. Rich Wingo that she was tired of “being in a country where I’m not welcome” during the state House debate over the Republican’s legislation to protect faith-based adoption agencies.

The Associated Press reported Todd said she was also tired of dealing “with institutions that know nothing about me but make a judgment that I’m a bad person because I am gay.”

Wingo said House Bill 24, the Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act, was all about protecting the religious liberties of faith-based adoption agencies and had nothing to do with LGBT discrimination or Rep. Todd.

“Child placing agencies, both individuals and organizations, have the inherent, fundamental, and inalienable right to free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” reads the legislation. “The right to free exercise of religion for child placing agencies includes the freedom to refrain from conduct that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“The intent is definitely not to hurt you,” Wingo told Todd.

Wingo said it hadn’t happened yet in Alabama, but there were faith-based agencies in other states that had to shut down rather than place children in homes that went against their faith. His legislation intends to make sure that never happens in Alabama.

“A law is desperately needed to protect faith-based adoption agencies. Religious freedom is the first freedom in the Bill of Rights,” Mathew Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, told PJM.

Wingo also said his legislation wouldn’t impact that many adoption agencies in Alabama. He estimated only 30 percent of them have a religious affiliation. But he said it is important that those with a religious mission are protected.

Over Rep. Todd’s objections — she was the only Democrat to vote against HB 24 in the Alabama House — the legislature approved HB 24.

Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has not said whether she intends to sign the bill into law. Her staff said she was studying it.

The Human Rights Campaign has called on Ivey to veto the bill and “denounced” the Alabama Senate for passing HB 24.

“Plain and simple — H.B. 24 is discrimination dressed up as a ‘solution’ to a fake problem,” said Eva Kendrick, HRC Alabama director. “It creates an unnecessary hardship for potential LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents in Alabama and primarily harms the children looking for a loving home.”

Similar legislation in South Dakota faces a court challenge that Rep. Wingo hopes to avoid in Alabama by applying this religious liberty protection law only to adoption agencies that do not receive state or federal funding.

But Wendy Crew, an attorney who represented a gay couple hoping to adopt in Alabama, told WBRC that wasn’t good enough.

“In some ways, all agencies receive state and federal funding. I don’t see how it can pass constitutional muster. It’s ripe for litigation,” said Crew. “It appears the bill is actually institutionalizing prejudice in the state of Alabama.”

Wingo denied the discrimination charge.

“It talks about not discriminating against the faith-based agencies. It’s not about discriminating other than just making sure the faith-based child placement agencies aren’t discriminated against due to their beliefs,” said Wingo.

April Aaron-Brush and her wife have a 10-year-old adopted daughter. They would like to adopt another child. But because Aaron-Brush and her wife are now legally married, she told NPR that faith-based adoption agencies are ignoring them.

Aaron-Brush said she and her partner might get a lawyer and file suit against faith-based institutions that have not responded to their adoption requests.

Eric Johnston, an attorney who represents faith-based adoption agencies in Alabama, said that is precisely why Gov. Ivey should sign the Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act.

“They anticipated there could be problems and wanted to — in advance — think it through and do something that would be reasonable and to the benefit of everyone concerned on both sides of the issue,” Johnston told NPR.

Wingo said because most adoption agencies in Alabama have no religious affiliation gay couples have plenty of alternatives. There is no reason they have to try to adopt from a faith-based agency.

“Protecting the religious freedom of faith-based adoption agencies is of the highest importance,” Staver told PJM. “These great ministries should not have to choose between serving children or shutting down.”

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R) told AL.com that she agreed with Wingo because the Alabama Department of Human Resources handles most of the state’s adoptions.

“What we’re trying to do is say is, ‘OK, you also can’t discriminate against religious organizations who want the ability to place these kids where they think they’d be best suited for them,’” Marsh said.

As for how he feels about gay couples adopting, Wingo said his opinion doesn’t matter.

“If you are a follower of Christ, then what matters is what does the word of God say?” Wingo said. “What does God say about it?”