South Dakota lawmakers are weighing a proposed bill that would allow agents of adoption and foster care agencies to reject qualified parents based on personal religious or moral objections.
Under the bill, SB 149, child placement agencies are given significant leeway to discriminate against prospective parents based on a wide swath of beliefs. While an agency may not discriminate based on race, ethnicity or national origin, it can refuse to place children in homes based on the parents’ religious beliefs (or lack of religion), moral beliefs, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or even an adoptive or foster parent’s accepting attitude toward homosexuality.
The bill also hamstrings the state to be able to respond in any retaliatory way against an agency that chooses to discriminate. The agency cannot be denied state funding, tax breaks, or special contracts, and the state cannot sue to force the agency to stop discriminating. Child advocates are concerned that the measure may result in a backlog of children unable to find permanent homes by further limiting the number of eligible adoptive or foster parents.
Similar bills have been passed in previous years in other states, including Virginia, where lawmakers approved a “conscience clause” exemption bill that allowed child placement agencies to discriminate based on a host of characteristics. The bill was signed into law by former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) in 2012.
“South Dakota is poised to pass a sweeping discriminatory bill that puts kids at risk,” Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Senate Bill 149 would allow any adoption or foster care agency to reject qualified parents on religious grounds, such as if they are LGBT, of a different faith, or because they are divorced.
“This shameful bill resembles the draft of the anti-LGBT, anti-choice executive order [from the White House] making its rounds last week that prompted a public outcry. South Dakota shoudl realize that the public will not accept this type of discrimination, especially when vulnerable kids are at risk.”
SB 149 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 15.