On Friday, South Dakota Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard signed a bill explicitly confirming the religious freedom of private adoption agencies to follow their “sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction” according to a written statement of faith. Opponents alleged that this bill would legalize discrimination against LGBT couples, but supporters say it is necessary to protect religious agencies.
Daugaard did not release a statement to accompany his signing of the bill (Senate Bill 149), but the Associated Press reported the governor said “he’s concerned private child-placement agencies acting in the best interest of a child could be subject to a lawsuit when denying placement to someone in a ‘protected class,’ such as members of the LGBT community. He hopes the legislation would forestall that.”
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Alan Solano, noted that religious adoption agencies in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and Washington, D.C. ended adoption services after states passed non-discrimination laws including sexual orientation. He reportedly intended this bill would prevent such closures in South Dakota, should the state ever pass an LGBT non-discrimination law.
Similar laws have been passed in Michigan, North Dakota, and Virginia, and legislatures in Alabama, Texas, and Oklahoma are considering similar bills.
The bill will protect religious adoption and foster care agencies from various state actions: funding cuts, revoked licenses, and denied contracts. Before the act became law, about a dozen agencies in the state were able to create and use policies of their choice to place children, since they did not accept public funds for these services. The law most applies to the six agencies, including one with religious ties, which currently receive state funds to place foster children in South Dakota, The Argus Leader reported.
The state’s Roman Catholic leaders have written letters urging the governor to allow Catholic Social Services and Catholic Family Services, as well as others, to continue placing children for private adoption using decades-old policies. In many cases, most notably involving the charity Little Sisters of the Poor, laws advancing the liberal agenda have threatened the ability of longstanding charities to aid the poor and less fortunate.
“This is the first anti-LGBTQ bill that any state has signed into law this session [and] it signals the potential of a dark new reality for the fight for LGBTQ rights,” Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign, declared in a statement. She argued that the children in the state’s foster care system “could now wait longer to be placed in a safe, loving home at the whim of an [sic] state-funded adoption or foster care agency with a vendetta against LGBTQ couples, mixed-faith couples or interracial couples.”
When it comes to interracial couples, the law explicitly declares that “no provision of this Act may be construed to allow a child-placement agency to decline to provide a service on the basis of a person’s race, ethnicity, or national origin.” If the bill does allow for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (or rather, martial or sexual relationship status), it does not allow for any racial bias.
Furthermore, while the law allows religious agencies to decline to provide services, it also mandates that in such cases, the agency must connect the person seeking to adopt with another agency that can help them. “If a child-placement agency declines to provide any services, the child-placement agency shall provide in writing information advising the applicant of the Department of Social Services website and a list of licensed child-placement agencies with contact information.”
Nevertheless, the LGBT activist did not acknowledge these important provisions. Indeed, Warbelow went so far as to suggest that no agency disagreeing with the LGBT agenda could properly care for all children. “LGBTQ children in South Dakota’s foster care system face the risk of staying in a facility that does not affirm their identity and actively works against the child’s well being by refusing to give them appropriate medical and mental health care,” the activist said (emphasis added).
It should not be overlooked that the HRC legal director is arguing that anyone dealing with children who think they might be gay, lesbian, or transgender, and who pushes back against such notions, is to be considered “actively working against” that child’s well-being. In other words, no matter what care in the form of food, clothing, shelter, and basic necessities a foster care or adoption agency might give to the child, refusing to encourage an LGBT identity is to be considered outright harm.
Make no mistake — it is all or nothing for these activists. The South Dakota law has specific protections for specific agencies with important caveats, like mandating that any agency which denies services shall help would-be adoptive parents to find another agency. Nevertheless, activists attack it as an “anti-LGBTQ bill” portending “a dark new reality for the fight for LGBTQ rights.” The state chapter of the ACLU has announced plans to challenge the law in court.
As Warbelow’s remarks suggest, it is not enough to say that adoption agencies should not be allowed to turn away gay couples. The agencies must also encourage LGBT identity among the children in their care. If these demands were to be enshrined in law, no Christian adoption organization which disagrees with the LGBT worldview would be able to operate according to their conscience.
Perhaps this law really is necessary.