Adoption agencies receiving taxpayer funds could discriminate as they wish
Bill is proposed soon after state House voted to increase payments to private agencies
(March 19, 2015) A bill that would allow private adoption agencies to take state money while continuing to discriminate against groups of prospective parents was approved by a Florida House committee Thursday.
Twelve Republicans voted for it; six Democrats opposed it.
Two weeks ago, the entire House approved an overhaul of Florida’s increasingly privatized adoption system that raises the financial incentives for agencies to place foster children into permanent families.
Thursday’s bill would allow both secular and faith-based agencies to receive the money even if their “religious or moral convictions” caused them to rule out certain groups of families. Families could be excluded for racial, religious, political, gender, sexual orientation or marital status reasons, among others.
The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, acknowledged that the bill would allow agencies to discriminate. “They have the freedom to put whatever they would like in their written code… to align themselves with whatever is guiding their mission and their purpose,” he told fellow members of the Health and Human Services Committee.
In a series of questions from other legislators, Brodeur acknowledged that agencies could discriminate against gun owners, same-sex couples, single relatives or other groups. If a prospective parent was excluded, “they could just go to another agency,” he said.
State Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, however, said it is wrong for taxpayers’ money to go to organizations that practice discrimination otherwise prohibited by law.
Said Barbara DeVane of the National Organization for Women: “How in the world could you… vote for a bill that would discriminate against anyone who is qualified, no matter what their religion, their sexual orientation, the color of their hair when they come in? How could anyone have the right to discriminate against these children who need a loving home?”
“When an agency chooses to accept tax dollars to find families for children in the welfare system, it must place children in homes based on professional standards that always protect the best interests of the child,” said Michelle Richardson of the ACLU of Florida. “The bill before you today will allow private agencies to put their own private beliefs ahead of the children they are obligated to serve. In the words of the chairman, it allows these groups to put their religious mission and purpose first, ahead of the needs of the children they’re supposed to be placing.”
Equality Florida’s Carlos Guillermo Smith cited the nearly 4,000 children in the state’s foster care system who are currently eligible for adoption.
“Florida should be encouraging adoption of needy children by loving families,” he said, “not empowering state-contracted agencies to arbitrarily refuse placement of a child with an otherwise qualified couple, due to the religious or moral beliefs of a state-contracted agency. Doing so would greatly exacerbate the shortage we already have of available families, and it works against the vulnerable children awaiting adoption or placement in Florida.
“This would grant an agency receiving state funds a license to discriminate.”