Debate was lengthy, and at times personal and emotional, and when the question was called, the state Senate approved a controversial faith-based adoption bill Friday by a 35-19 vote.
“Other states have failed to provide legal assurance that these agencies would not be in breach of contract or find themselves subject to unnecessary suits,” Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, said while presenting Senate Bill 375. “In our hearings, we had an agency that operates in Georgia — they came and they said if they had the assurance provided with this bill, that they would then feel that they were safe, that they were capable of contracting with the state. And they could provide up to 50 homes a year to children in our foster care system.
“Think about that — over 10 years, 500 children given the opportunity for a good life. Opportunities that statistics and studies show that those who are in the system for the long term will not have. This bill does not in any way prevent anyone from adopting, it does not prevent any agency — faith-based, secular — from participating and placing children in loving homes.”
The bill had 23 co-sponsors joining Ligon, so passage of the bill was virtually assured once it went up for a floor vote. However, several senators rose in opposition to the bill, and debate will continue as SB 375 moves on to the House.
“Isn’t it true, that looking at the language of this bill, if the department were trying to place a gay teenager, and they knew that a child-placing agency was anti-gay — anti-LGBTQ — that they could not take that into consideration into determining whether that child-placing agency was the best child placing agency for that child?” Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, asked Ligon.
He said he disagreed with the premise.
“Certainly, child placing agencies have a duty to act in the best interest of the child, and those are factors that could be considered,” Ligon said.
However, that hypothetical circumstance could come up again in court, through federal legal action pursued by two Texas A&M professors who sought to adopt a child through Catholic Charities of Fort Worth. According to the lawsuit, the agency denied to help the women adopt a child because they were lesbian, and further that the agency did not have any LGBT children among the 70 or so in its care.
Back in Georgia, Ligon said the bill is about accommodation and increasing adoption options. Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said his personal opinions have shifted over the years and that he is supportive of same-sex adoptive couples, as it would mean a child would have two loving parents, as opposed to spending further time in the foster care system. Still, he voiced his strong support for the legislation.
“I’m tired of watching us fail in certain areas and we have failed these foster children,” Millar said. “They get in here — the statistics (Ligon) read are true. They end up in the streets, a lot of them down the road. If this broadens the base for opportunities for someone to find people who can love them and raise them, then by God, I’m going to vote for it.”
Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, took exception with the debate picturing sexual minority communities and communities of faith as mutually exclusive.
“I want to underscore for all of us here that gay people also practice in faith communities, also have religious beliefs,” Orrock said. “The idea, the aspersion cast that a same-sex couple does not constitute a faith-based family — what are we saying here? What kind of belief is that?”
She went on to say, “This proposition that we should encourage agencies and change our law and protect the agencies that are going to deny loving families the opportunity to adopt a child from our foster care system is just backwards on its face.”
Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, related personal stories about close friends and her family, stating the bill was not about an academic issue but impacts to real people.
“Same-sex couples are more likely to adopt than heterosexual ones, and that includes hard-to-adopt children,” Parent said. “This measure discourages those very same people from adopting, when our kids actually need more of them to step forward and adopt.
“It sends the message that the state of Georgia thinks its perfectly OK to discriminate, which then has a chilling effect on these groups stepping forward. And that can lead to, of course, fewer kids being adopted. It’s a slap in the face to same-sex couples who would consider adoption.”
SB 375’s move to the House comes nearly at the wire — crossover deadline, the day when bills have to move out of the chamber in which they were introduced, is Wednesday.