Tennessee lawmakers are working to become the latest state to protect faith-based adoption agencies’ freedom to refuse giving children to gay parents and other families because of their religious beliefs.
The GOP-dominant House on April 1 overwhelmingly voted 67-22 in support of the proposal after a brief but tense debate. The bill must now pass the similarly GOP-controlled Senate before it can reach Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for final approval.
Lee hasn’t said publicly whether he supports the legislation but his religious faith has often been a cornerstone of his political career. Kansas and Oklahoma enacted similar laws last year.
Supporters argue that while faith-based adoption agencies in Tennessee have been operating without issue, the move is needed to protect against potential lawsuits hostile to the group’s religious beliefs.
Furthermore, if the proposal becomes law, current adoption practices in the state aren’t expected to change. Some faith-based agencies already do not allow gay couples to adopt. But this measure would provide legal protections to agencies that do. For example, denied applicants couldn’t sue an agency for damages if the religious belief or moral conviction was cited a reason.
“We’re doing the same as nine other states have done,” said Republican Rep. Tim Rudd of Murfreesboro, the bill’s sponsor. “Throughout the country, these faith-based organizations have been sued to the point they’re being driven out of business due to costs.”
However, opponents counter the measure will give adoption agencies free rein to discriminate against LGBT families, single parents, and non-Christians in placing children based on “religious or moral convictions or policies.”
Foster Kid Claps and Shouts Out ‘Dad’ in Courtroom Upon Being Officially AdoptedA couple in Ohio were feeling anxious as they sat in the courtroom waiting for the judge to read the adoption decree for their foster child. But they were soon alleviated of their anxiety when the boy was finally pronounced theirs. Everyone became emotional when the little fella excitedly yelled out one word and started clapping in excitement.
Mandi and Tyler Palmer, of Perrysburg, had always wanted to be parents since they wed in 2014. But Mandi was unable to conceive because of Crohn’s disease. “That’s when we started looking into other options and we were talking about adoption and we kept hearing our county’s commercial for the need of foster parents in our area,” she told PEOPLE.
“We were scared. We kind of danced around the idea for a little bit. Then we prayed on it, and we just felt like God pushed us to do it.”
A surprise was waiting for them on the very week they became licensed as foster parents.
“Once we got licensed as foster-to-adopt parents, that week, we got the phone call for Hunter. He was 8 days old,” Mandi said. “We went and picked him up at Children’s Services. We brought him home and we went through the roller coaster ride of foster care for that entire year.”
After 16 months of fostering, the couple learned that they could adopt young Hunter.
On Dec. 18, 2017, the couple went to a local courthouse to sign the adoption paperwork.
“It was very emotional, in a good way,” Mandi said. “We had all of our family and friends there. At the end of the court process, the judge announced [Hunter’s] new legal name. And they read the adoption decree and that’s when Hunter looked at my husband and he shouted out, ‘Dad!’
“He just started clapping and everybody just started crying. It was so emotional. It’s definitely rewarding. It’s nice to look in his eyes now and not have to worry that he’s ever gonna have to leave us again.”
“On adoption day, it’s almost like a ton of bricks just came off our chest. We now know that he’s never leaving us. He’ll always be safe and loved with us. So that in itself is rewarding,” she added.