Tennessee lawmakers started off their annual session by passing a controversial new bill prohibiting faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.
As reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the bill passed the Republican-led Senate last year with a 20-6 vote and was handed to Republican Governor Bill Lee, who is likely to sign it.
“To the extent allowed by federal law, no private licensed child-placing agency shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer or participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies,” the bill reads.
Nashville-based Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention pushed for the legislation.
“This was a high priority,” tweeted ERLC. “We engaged on this bill because it was based on the principle of freedom for anyone to help children; the freedom for faith-based organizations, like the [Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home] to keep doing their good work consistent with their principles.”
In other states, adoption agencies have been forced to shut down because legislation required allowance of same-sex couples, according to Sen. Paul Rose, who introduced the bill.
“This bill does not restrict any rights to place a child with a family, what I would consider a traditional family, mother and father,” he said during debates.
The Tennessee Equality Project, however, opposed the bill, calling it part of the state’s “slate of hate.” In 2019, the state was second in the country to enact the most anti-LGBTQ legislation, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Oklahoma was first.
Democrat senators also argued that because religious-based agencies take public funds, they must adhere to state’s rules. Sen. Jeff Yarbro said, “When those organizations are contracting with the state of Tennessee, when they are receiving dollars from public funds, they are no longer acting as private actors. They’re acting as public actors.”
A few Republicans also joined the side of Democrats over the bill. Republican Senate speaker Lt. Gov. Randy McNally stated that the bill was unnecessary.
“I would argue that it’s best to leave alone what we have, because the protections already exist,” he said, though he also explained that the President “has stated he would not enforce President [Barack] Obama’s mandate regarding religious organizations not being able to choose who they give children to and other things.”
But Christian adoption agencies in Tennessee are celebrating the victory.
“I am thankful to live in a state where the governmental leadership respects religious liberty,” said Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “This adoption bill recognizes the biblical values of Christian adoption agencies in Tennessee and provides a measure of protection as these values are exercised. I am confident that Gov. Lee will sign the bill into law.”
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Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine.