Alabama lawmakers have passed a bill allowing child placement agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples and other prospective parents based on the agency’s preferred religious beliefs.
The Alabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act seeks to ensure that charitable, religious and private child placement services continue to be licensed and contract with the state, as they currently do. But following the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality, some lawmakers have worried that relationship between the state and the religiously-affiliated agencies could fray over religious objections to same-sex adoption and parenting.
Specifically, supporters of the bill argue, unless some sort of religious exemption is approved, agencies such as Catholic Charities could lose their license if they refuse to place children with same-sex couples or other parents with whose lifestyles they disagree. Such an exemption would also allow agencies to discriminate on the basis of other characteristics, such as a person’s religion (or lack thereof) or age.
To those who might object to such a measure, commonly known as a “conscience clause” exemption, Alabama lawmakers argue that parents who are discriminated against at one agency can simply seek help from another.
“Because state and private entities provide child placing services through many entities, each with varying religious beliefs or no religious beliefs, the religiously compelled inability of the entities to provide child placement will not prevent any particular individual from alternative equal access to child placing services,” the bill reads. “There is no compelling reason to require a child placing agency to violate its sincerely held religious beliefs in providing any service, since alternative access to the services is equally available.”
The bill now heads to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk, where she will either veto it or sign it into law. However, the fact that the bill was overwhelmingly approved by the legislature makes it more likely that Ivey will sign it.
Alex Smith, the board chair of Equality Alabama, noted in a statement that there are nearly 5,000 children currently in the care of child placement agencies. The conscience clause exemption, Smith says, “robs these children of a loving home and gives the state’s seal of approval to unnecessary religious exemptions that open the door to discrimination.”
“If Governor Ivey signs this bill into law, my husband Michael and I — and so many other LGBTQ couples — could be discriminated against by child placing agencies and their employees,” Smith said, urging Ivey to veto the bill.
Currently, five other states have conscience clause exemptions that allow child placement agencies to discriminate against prospective parents, including Virginia. The most recent state to approve such protections for agencies was South Dakota, where Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed an almost identical measure into law in March.
“As someone who was in foster care and adopted in Alabama, I am dismayed to see HB 24 pass,” Fran Hutchins, the deputy director of Equality Federation, said in a statement. “All children deserve a loving forever home, but this bill stands in the way of that. Governor Ivey has an opportunity to veto this harmful bill and have a positive impact on the lives of kids who are waiting for a home.”