Although public support for adoptions by same-sex couples has increased at a faster pace than same-sex marriage, anxiety by social conservatives and faith-based adoption agencies also has risen as the U.S. Supreme Court comes closer to ruling on whether gay marriage is a constitutional right. And that anxiety will play out in the Texas House today as state Representative Scott Sanford plans offers an religious freedom amendment to a family services bill to allow adoption agencies to discriminate based on religious beliefs.
Sanford had introduced HB 3864 to allow faith-based organizations to opt-out of adopting or fostering children with same-sex couples. The bill never made it any farther than the calendars committee. A similar bill by Senator Donna Campbell, SB 1935, never even received a public hearing in the Health & Human Services Committee.
But Sanford just last week won House approval of a bill to protect clergy from lawsuits if they refuse to perform same-sex marriages. The vote was 142-0. That was different, though, because it dealt more with a fear than a reality. In this case, the reality is faith-based adoption agencies may shut down unless they are allowed to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds.
Sanford told me that as much as a quarter of the adoption agencies in Texas may shut down if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage because adopting children to those couples would “violate their religious beliefs.” He noted that faith-based adoption agencies have shut down in states that have legalized gay marriage. His proposed amendment to a Department of Family & Protective Services sunset bill would allow these agencies to refuse to place children up for adoption or foster care based on religious beliefs.
Catholic Charities in Illinois, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia have closed their adoption agencies to avoid having to place children in the homes of same-sex couples. In Illinois, Lutheran adoption services and the Evangelical Child and Family Agency also shut down. As with the legislations here, bills were introduced this year in Michigan and Alabama to allow faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples. There also is similar legislation pending in Congress.
A quick look at the Texas Comptroller’s state spending web site shows the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services paid Catholic Charities $6.4 million for services in Fiscal Year 2014. Through both faith-based and secular agencies, the department that year placed 31,000 children in foster homes and another 5,231 in adoptive homes. There is no readily available record on how many of those homes might involve same-sex couples. But current law does allow faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.
When the House held a public hearing on Sanford’s bill, the witness list appeared to be less about adoption and more about the social conservative and liberal activists groups that constantly fight over gay marriage. For Sanford’s bill were representatives of the faith-based legal operation the Liberty Institute, Texas Right to Life, the Texas Home School Coalition and Concerned Women for America. Against it were the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Impact, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, Equality Texas and the ACLU of Texas.
The closest the witness list came to being directly involved with the issue was a representative of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops supporting the bill and a representative of the National Association of Social Workers opposing it. John Wright of the Texas Observer wrote an interesting story on the hearing, if you want to read more.
We are only weeks away from the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, and, whatever its outcome, public sentiment is changing. If gay marriage is part of the culture war, surveys indicate social conservatives are losing. A Gallup poll last year found public support for same-sex adoptions outstripping public support for same-sex marriages. There are 37 states have legal same-sex marriage, including 26 by lawsuits and 11 by either legislation or popular vote. Ireland last weekend voted to allow same-sex marriage in an election that many saw as a repudiation of Vatican policy by young Catholics.
Even if Sanford’s amendment were to pass, it seems unlikely to survive even its first challenge in federal court if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage.
Sanford plans to offer his amendment to a Family & Protective Services sunset bill being carried by Representative Cindy Burkett of Dallas. Burkett told me that she has worked on the bill for a year and a half to improve child services in Texas. She said she is pledged to fight off all amendments to protect the sunset bill. ”If it gets killed, it will set us back two years,” Burkett said.