On the first day of National Adoption Month, the Trump administration published a new rule that would allow adoption and foster care agencies that receive federal taxpayer money to discriminate against LGBTQ prospective parents.
The proposed rule would effectively overturn Obama-era regulations an allow adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against prospective parents on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and martial status — as well as other factors that could be used to refuse to place children with certain non-LGBTQ parents or couples.
In its summary of the rule, the Department of Health and Human Services justifies the changes as necessary to ensure “the protection of religious liberty.”
The department couched the changes in benign terms that invoke “all applicable Supreme Court decisions” and “nondiscrimination laws” (those, like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that prohibit the federal government from infringing on the beliefs of practices of religious entities).
“HHS is committed to fully enforcing the civil rights laws passed by Congress. The proposed rule would better align its grants regulations with federal statutes, eliminating regulatory burden, including burden on the free exercise of religion,” HHS said in a statement. “HHS is affirming that it will comply with all applicable Supreme Court decisions in administering its grants programs.”
In other words, agencies that discriminate against prospective parents based on personal characteristics will continue to receive taxpayer funds so long as they attempt to justify the discrimination by citing their sincerely-held religious beliefs.
The Trump administration has been signaling its intention to institute such a rule for months. In January, HHS issued a waiver to South Carolina allowing faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to turn away any parents whose religious beliefs don’t match the provider’s.
That waiver effectively allowed South Carolina child placement agencies like Miracle Hill Ministries to not only reject same-sex couples, but parents who were secular, Jewish, or Catholic.
A lesbian couple has since sued HHS and South Carolina over the waiver, claiming the kind of discrimination they faced is unconstitutional.
The advocacy group Children’s Rights warned of such consequences at the federal level in a statement responding to the proposed rule.
“With this rule, we are witnessing the full force of the United States government being used to enshrine discrimination into law — all at the expense of defenseless foster children who need and deserve loving homes,” Sandy Santana, the executive director of Children’s Rights, said.
“This proposal rolls back Obama-era nondiscrimination policies to instead enable taxpayer-funded discrimination against same-sex couples, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, and others whose religious beliefs do not match those of child placing agencies,” Santana continued. “At a time when we are already experiencing a severe shortage of foster homes across the country, our policies should encourage placing children with safe and loving families — period.”
LGBTQ groups also denounced the rule, arguing that allowing agencies to discriminate reduces the pool of otherwise qualified foster and adoptive parents and prioritizes the religious beliefs of agencies over the wellbeing of children.
“It is outrageous that the Trump administration would mark the start of National Adoption Month by announcing a rule to further limit the pool of loving homes available to America’s 440,000 foster children,” Julie Kruse, the director of federal policy at Family Equality Council, said in a statement. “The American public overwhelmingly opposes allowing taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to turn away qualified parents simply because they are in a same-sex relationship.”
“Children should never be denied the opportunity to join a stable, loving family — even if that means the family is LGBTQ. Research has shown LGBTQ families provide the same kind of love, protection, and support as other families, and no child should be denied that kind of environment,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “The Trump Administration has once again demonstrated how they prefer to prioritize the gross work of anti-LGBTQ activists over the safety and well-being of our children.”