Awful Religious Exemptions Bill Would Prevent Gays From Adopting

Religious exemptions, religious exemptions everywhere! Religious exemptions for everything! If SCOTUS's Hobby Lobby ruling and latest version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act weren't enough, a newly proposed bill from two GOP Senators would allow faith-based adoption agencies opposed to marriage equality to deny service to gay and lesbian couples.

The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014 was introduced last week by Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Representative Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania because, apparently "some people in positions of power are essentially discriminating against people of faith."

This is no doubt in reference to several Catholic-based agencies in states where marriage equality exists shutting down their adoption and foster care programs rather than place children with married gay couples, despite the fact that in many of these cases the programs were supported directly by state funds. According to a statement from Senator Enzi, it seems like he would like to get around this separation of church and state by providing federally sanctioned exemptions for religious organisations.

Faith-based charities and organisations do an amazing job of administering adoption, foster care and a host of other services. Limiting their work because someone might disagree with what they believe only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together.

If passed into law (assuming it would be constitutional, and it might not be), it sets a very dangerous precedent. Like corporations before it, these adoption agencies would now be able to claim that they as agencies have religious beliefs:

Child welfare service providers, both individuals and organisations, have the inherent, fundamental, and inalienable right to free exercise of religion protected by the United States Constitution.

It would allow religious organisations receiving taxpayer funding to avoid abiding by the same rules as secular adoption agencies, and would, in fact, punish any state (or even the federal government) for attempting to enforce its own non-discrimination laws and regulations in regards to these religious yet taxpayer funded organisations. The bill itself is quite clear on the purpose being proposed:

The Federal Government, and any State that receives federal funding for any program that provides child welfare services under part B or part E of title IV of the Social Security Act (and any subdivision, office or department of such State) shall not discriminate or take an adverse action against a child welfare service provider on the basis that the provider has declined or will decline to provide, facilitate, or refer for a child welfare service that conflicts with, or under circumstances that conflict with, the provider's sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Does anyone see the problem with the way this is written? Oh yeah, Human Rights Campaign's Ellen Kahn does, pointing out that the proposed legislation would allow "rampant" discrimination. While the intent is clearly to support Christian adoption agencies (and most likely specifically Catholic agencies), there is nothing in the bill preventing any other private organisations from doing tit for tat. Conceivably you could have a conservative Muslim adoption agency refusing to approve Jewish foster parents, or an adoption agency set up by believers in the Flying Spaghetti Monster turning down fundamentalist Christian foster parents. Although hypothetical, the potential unintended consequences are considerable, as Kahn rightly points out.

It's increasingly clear that, post-Hobby Lobby, some in positions of power believe that religious freedom should only belong to a few. If this bill passes, an Evangelical straight couple, a single father, or a committed and loving gay and lesbian couple could find their path to adoption blocked for no reasonable reason other than naked discrimination.

And, of course, because it wouldn't be a true American anti-gay news piece without the National Organisation for Marriage (NOM) showing up (well, metaphorically, at least, they have an awful track record for showing up in person), the group has called on members to support the bill. In a blog post titled This "Common Sense Legislation" Needs Your Support, the group's leader, Brian Brown, gushed over the legislation (and does anyone else notice that on all of its websites, the pictures are invariably of families of color, but all of the spokespeople are middle aged white people?) saying:

Believing that kids need both a mom and a dad should not disqualify a service provider from doing their invaluable work. They shouldn't be penalized by the revocation of aid for holding to the common sense principle that children do best when raised by both a loving mother and father.

Oh, really? Australian gay parents might disagree, Mr. Brown.

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