House Committee Approves Religious Adoption Restrictions

April 7, 2015

The Florida House Judiciary Committee recently approved a “conscience protection” bill that would allow adoption agencies to discriminate against gay couples based on the agencies’ religious beliefs. This bill comes three weeks after the House voted in favor of overturning Florida’s gay adoption ban, which dates to 1977.

The Bill

House Bill 7111 was proposed by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, in the middle of the legislative session. It would mean that private adoption and foster care agencies would not be required to perform or assist in the placement of children when that placement would go against their written religious or moral convictions or policies. The bill would require the agencies to pre-publish their religious views, so they could not reject applicants irrationally.

The bill also forbids Florida’s Department of Children and Families from denying, revoking, or refusing to renew an agency’s license because of the agency’s refusal, for religious reasons, to perform an adoption. It further forbids state and local government to withhold grants or contracts from an agency or to prevent an agency from participating in any government program because of such a refusal. The bill also provides that such a refusal may not be a basis for a lawsuit seeking injunctive relief or punitive damages.

Proponents

There are 82 nongovernmental adoption agencies currently operating in Florida. Brodeur has stated that some of these agencies do not approve of single people, unmarried couples, or homosexual couples adopting children. He says that his bill is narrowly crafted, and is designed to let the agencies protect their moral objections, and that gay couples can use other agencies, such as the state’s Department of Children and Families, for their adoptions. Brodeur argued that in other states, agencies with religious convictions against gay adoption have been sued and put out of business, and that his bill will help ensure that Florida’s private agencies do not suffer the same fate.

Supporting Brodeur were various faith-based groups. Bill Bunkley, of the Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, argued that the significance of the bill was being exaggerated, and that couples denied an adoption from one agency on the basis of religious exemptions could simply seek out another agency’s services.

Opponents

Opponents of the bill warn about discrimination, economic backlash, and harm to children. Equality Florida’s lobbyist Carlos Smith compared it to Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed last month, which lets business owners deny service to customers based on religious views. He warned of possible boycotts, protests, and economic consequences to Florida’s tourism-based economy.

Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Palm Springs, addressed possible constitutional issues with letting adoption agencies recognize marriages of only some couples and allowing them to not recognize the marriages and family status of other couples or of single parents. Amy Datz, of the National Council of Jewish Women, opposes the bill because it is contrary to the best interests of children.

There is currently no Senate companion to the bill, so its threat is, at this point, largely symbolic.

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