Texas Bill Could Let Agencies Bar LGBT, Atheist, Single Parents From Adopting

The bill would allow private adoption agencies to claim ‘religious exemption’ to working with LGBT parents or parents of another religion.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

A Texas bill would give state-funded adoption agencies the right to discriminate against LGBT parents and religious minorities.

The bill, HB 3859, would allow Texas’ adoption and foster care agencies to claim religious objection to certain groups, without fear of losing state funding. The bill, touted by supporters as a victory for religious freedom, could restrict adoption and fostering opportunity for LGBT, single, or non-Christian parents, and could allow child welfare services to send foster children to anti-gay “conversion therapy.”

The bill was scheduled for a Saturday vote in Texas’s House, but an overfull schedule postponed the decision until a yet-to-be-determined date.

Most Texas adoptions are conducted through the state’s Child Protective Services department, the bill’s author, State Rep. James Frank told CBS. The bill would not allow CPS to discriminate based on religious beliefs of its employees.

But Texas also partners with hundreds of private adoption and foster agencies, some of which receive state funding. The bill would allow these agencies to claim religious exemption to working with LGBT parents or parents of another religion, without fear of losing their funding.

Under Frank’s bill, Texas would not be able to “discriminate or take any adverse action against” a private adoption provider who denies adoptions to certain groups that “conflict with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs.” If the law passes, a Christian adoption agency could refuse to match children with LGBT, Jewish, Muslim, or single parents. (The bill prohibits discrimination “on the basis of that person’s race, ethnicity, or national origin.”)

Frank described the bill as providing "reasonable accommodations so everyone can participate in the system."

"My guess is if you have an LGBT agency they're going to pick an LGBT family, and if you have a Baptist agency they may be more likely to pick a Baptist family," Frank told CBS. "They're free to do that and should be free to do that."

Finding a Baptist adoption agency in Texas is easy. On its website, Texas’s Department of Family and Protective Services recommends two Baptist adoption centers in-state, and dozens of other explicitly Christian agencies. But none of the agencies listed on that database advertise in specializing in LGBT adoptions, or in adoptions for any non-Christian faith.

And while the department advertises its “faith-based” program for fostering and adoption on its website, Christianity appears to be the only “faith” alluded to in any of the program’s literature. The site offers tips on “28 ways churches can help” orphans, but makes no mention of synagogues, mosques, or Buddhist temples. All nine of the “faith community leaders” who attended the the state’s 2013 summit on faith-based child welfare were from Christian organizations, according to DFPS literature.

The bill’s critics question its constitutionality.

“The bill would allow discrimination on the basis of religious belief,” Catherine Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, told The Daily Beast. “An organization that receives taxpayer funds and provides services on behalf of taxpayers of Texas can turn potential parents away because those parents have religious disagreement with them.”

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The bill wouldn’t only sanction discrimination against prospective parents; it would also allow child welfare organizations to administer foster care in accordance with their religious beliefs. For sexually active teens in foster care, care providers could “decline to provide, facilitate, or refer a person for abortions, contraceptives, or drugs, devices, or services that are potentially abortion-inducing.” In other words, a care provider could claim religious exemption to providing condoms or birth control.

Foster care organizations could also require children to follow their religious requirements, which, in some religious organizations could mean sending LGBT youth to so-called “conversion therapy,” a dangerous treatment that claims to change a person’s sexual orientation. Conversion therapy has been broadly condemned as psychologically damaging, particularly for youth, and has been outlawed in a number of states.

“We’re talking about a trans kid that’s in crisis and they need counseling. The agency can refuse to provide that. They could even to force that child to undergo conversion therapy,” Oakley said. “If they want to subject that child to abuse practices because it's their religious beliefs, the state would have no ability to take action against them.”

The bill is expected to go to a vote in Texas’s House this week.