Senate leaders derail controversial adoption proposal
Letting tax-funded agencies discriminate on religious grounds raised too many questions
April 20, 2015
Florida Senate leaders decided Monday not to vote on a controversial proposal that would allow taxpayer-supported adoption agencies to use religious or personal beliefs to discriminate against prospective parents.
Members of the Senate’s Rules Committee, the only Senate committee to hear the bill, expressed concerns over several unanswered questions, such as whether it might be unconstitutional or put federal child welfare funding at risk.
After more than 90 minutes of discussion and testimony, the committee voted to “temporarily postpone” the bill, a procedural move that means it likely will not come up again this legislative session.
“We hope not,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, public policy specialist for Equality Florida, who was in the room when the vote was taken. "This hastily drafted bill is a constitutional nightmare, with all sorts of unintended consequences. Both Republican and Democratic senators knew that. That's why they made an intentional decision to not vote on the bill."
On April 9, the House of Representatives approved HB-7111, motivated by the pending repeal of Florida’s ban on gay or lesbian adoptions, which has gone unenforced since 2010 after an appeals court rule it unconstitutional. Two religiously affiliated adoption agencies said they don’t believe in placing children with gay or lesbian parents.
But the hastily written bill was so broad that it would allow agencies to turn away prospective parents for any reason, including marital status, religion or race, so long as the agency said in writing it was doing so out of religious or moral conviction.
Last week a group of Florida and national child welfare advocates urged senators to reject the bill, saying it would make adoptions more difficult by placing new obstacles in the way of otherwise qualified prospective parents.
Florida already has large numbers of children who reach 18 without ever having been adopted. Many are difficult to place because of their age or special needs.
The shortage of parents willing to adopt is so acute, that no qualified parent should be turned away “due to philosophical or religious beliefs,” said a joint statement from the Child Welfare League of America, Donaldson Adoption Institute, North American Council on Adoptable Children and Voice for Adoption.
If adoption agencies are allowed to discriminate, adoption attorney Maria Bates said, “we’re going to have less and less families when in fact we need a lot more families to adopt these kids and to be a support for them.” She herself is an adoptive mother of three.
Critics also compared the bill to Indiana’s notorious “religious exemption” law, which drew such nationwide scorn that Indiana’s governor was forced to rescind it this spring.
Florida’s proposal was even worse, several speakers said at Monday’s hearing, because it involved agencies receiving public funds. Florida pays private agencies to handle all its foster care adoptions.