Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced on Jan.14 that he’ll sign into law a measure that would assure continued taxpayer funding of faith-based foster care and adoption agencies that exclude LGBTQIAP+ families or other based on religious beliefs.
The GOP-controlled Senate gave the bill final passage on the first day of the 2020 legislative session after it was initially approved by the House last April. The bill was sent to the Republican governor amid warnings by critics of possible negative consequences for Tennessee’s reputation.
Lee’s communication director, Chris Walker, confirmed in a statement Tuesday evening that the governor would sign the bill. Earlier, before the Senate vote, Lee declined to weigh in after saying he had not read the two-page bill.
A handful of states to date have enacted similar legislation including Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, South Dakota, North Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi, and Michigan. But Michigan agreed in settling a lawsuit to no longer turn away LGBTQIAP+ couples or individuals because of religious objections.
Nationally, supporters argue that such measures are necessary to protect against lawsuits hostile to the group’s religious beliefs. On the other hand, critics say that the proposals attack LGBTQIAP+ rights and limit the number of qualified families seeking to adopt or foster needy children.
“This bill is solely about freedom,” said Sen. Paul Rose, the Republican sponsor of the bill.
Rose said that the bill might not be necessary, pointing out that President Donald Trump’s administration is currently proposing a rule that would impose the same protections. Yet he said he advanced the bill this year because there was no guarantee Trump would be reelected later this year.
Trump’s proposal would rescind an Obama-era rule that prevented foster care agencies from receiving federal funds if they discriminated against families based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Ultimately, 20 Republicans approved the bill while five other Republican members simply voted “present” even after some questioned the bill’s benefits.
Dickerson was the only Republican to join the Senate’s five Democrats in opposition. He said the bill would allow certain groups to limit the families where children could be sent, adding “I expect that waiting list to increase somewhat.”
He added, “This will have a direct fiscal impact on the state, not to mention the humanitarian impact and emotional impact on those children who … will now be in a foster setting for a longer time.”
In 2011, Illinois declined to renew its state contract with Catholic Charities adoption services due to its policy of refusing child placement to same-sex couples. Catholic Charities has also stopped handling adoptions in Washington D.C., Massachusetts, and San Francisco over concerns they would be required to act against their religious beliefs.
By Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise