The state of Tennessee started off 2020 by introducing a controversial bill that has the potential to have negative effects for foster children and adoptive parents alike. Lawmakers in Tennessee passed an anti-LGBTQ adoption bill this week, giving religious adoption agencies the right to refuse prospective adoptive parents if they are a same-sex couple.
On Jan. 15, the Tennessee general assembly voted to pass Bill 0836, which "prohibits a private licensed child-placing agency from being required to perform, assist, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions." Adoption and foster agencies will therefore be given the option to refuse prospective adoptive parents looking to adopt home based solely on their sexual orientation, ostensibly to protect that agency's religious beliefs.
The state will not be allowed to deny grant money or licensing to a religious-based adoption or foster agency that makes it a policy to deny prospective LGBTQ parents, CNN reported, adding that Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is expected to sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.
The Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group, issued a statement about the potential hazards of this bill to The Tennessean, with executive director Chris Sanders noting that the bill is "discriminatory."
"If this bill passes, it will send a clear signal across the country that Tennessee is not welcoming to diverse communities and not open for business, all while accomplishing nothing to help children find a home," Sanders told The Tennessean.
The state of Tennessee sees 1,000 children age out of the foster system every year, growing up without a forever family or a place to call home, according to the Adoption Exchange Association. It's important to note that a 2015 report from the The Guardian noted that same-sex couples were more likely to adopt older children and those who might often be "difficult to place," children with disabilities or siblings, for instance.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Tennessee also pointed out in a statement regarding the passing of this anti-LGBTQ adoption bill that "there are thousands of foster kids in Tennessee waiting to be placed with forever families."
"Turning away good families simply because they don’t satisfy an agency's religious preferences would deny thousands of Tennessee children access to the families they urgently want and need," the ACLU's statement reads. "In 2017, over 13,000 children were served by the foster care system in Tennessee, and more than 1,300 of them were waiting to be adopted. Removing potential applicants from the pool of families who want to foster or adopt would dramatically reduce the number of finalized adoptions in our state, creating yet another barrier for what is already one of the state’s most vulnerable populations."
Not every member of the state legislature in Tennessee agrees with this new bill, with Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson voting against it alongside five Democrats. He told USA Today that he believed this bill would have serious backlash for businesses coming to the state, including sports teams that are part of the NFL, NAACP, and the NHL.
If you would like to speak out to Gov. Lee, you can call his office at (615) 741-2001 or send him a message here.