There are 32 new lawmakers, including 28 in the state House, this year
Michael Schwab, Nashville Tennessean
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Multiple bills filed this week in the Tennessee General Assembly would allow adoption agencies to deny services to same-sex couples based on religious objections.
One bill, filed by Republican legislators Joey Hensley and John Ragan specifies that an adoption agency would not be required to provide services to a couple if it would conflict with the agency’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The bill would also prevent state or local government from taking adverse action against those groups.
Legislation filed by Republican Tim Rudd puts in place similar protections for discrimination based on religious beliefs and would prevent a couple from suing the adoption agency for refusing to provide services.
“We were concerned that adoption agencies, such as religious adoption agencies, would be required to allow adoption when they had religious beliefs that contradicted certain lifestyles,” Hensley said. “That they would be forced to allow adoptions to people they felt were not appropriate parents, so we didn’t want those agencies to not be able to provide adoptions.”
Hensley pointed to a decision by Catholic Charities in New York to end its adoption program due to the state prohibiting adoption agencies from discriminating based on sexual orientation.
He said he is unaware of any Tennessee adoption agencies that have felt pressure to close over policies on same-sex adoption, which is permitted in the state.
Similar legislation passed last year in both Kansas and Oklahoma.
The state attorney general determined in 2007 that there was no prohibition in Tennessee statutes against gay and lesbian couples adopting children.
Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, says the legislation is “not motivated by the welfare of children,” but rather by a “desire to discriminate.”
“If there were some issue, all the people who are involved in same-sex relationships who are parents through other means, not adoption, would not be fit, but the studies don’t show that,” Sanders said.
A Cornell University analysis of 79 studies on the well-being of children in same-sex homes determined that 75 concluded those children fared just as well as their peers.
In addition to same-sex relationships, Hensley said facilitating an adoption for a single person or unmarried couple could also go against a religious adoption agency’s statement of faith.
“I don’t think a gay couple is the best environment for children,” said Hensley, who is a member of the Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination. “Certainly, legally, they can adopt children and they can have children, but I think every child needs a mother and a father. The best environment is a mother and a father.”
Hensley, who is divorced, adopted three foster children with his ex-wife when the two were still married.
“That’s not the best situation for children, but I try to make the best of it,” Hensley said when asked about being a single parent to adopted children.
He said the legislation still would not prevent gay couples from using secular child-placement groups, but would merely prevent religious organizations from being forced to act in conflict with their beliefs.
“There’s a lot of other adoption agencies that are not religious-based,” Hensley said. “There’s certainly other options for people who want to adopt.”
In 2016, Gov. Bill Haslam signed controversial legislation that allows therapists to deny service to gay and lesbian clients, a bill that was condemned by the American Counseling Association.
“We’re very concerned about the possible movement of this bill,” Sanders said.
Follow Natalie Allison on Twitter @natalie_allison.
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