Indiana is scrambling to fix its Religious Freedom Act, but Florida could be one step closer in replacing the Hoosier State as the face of LGBT discrimination. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would allow private adoption agencies to refuse same-sex couples from adopting.
Much like the controversy with the Indiana law, which gave local businesses the right to not serve gay customers, adoption agencies in Florida would have the state’s backing to turn down gay couples who want to adopt a child. They would also be protected from potential lawsuits from LGBT couples who were turned down and still receive tax money from the state to operate.
The bill, sponsored by the House Health & Human Services chairman, State Rep. Jason Brodeur, offers a so-called “conscience protection” for private adoption agencies who, as the proposal puts it, via “religious or moral convictions” can turn down families based on sexual orientation and martial status, or even political orientation and religion. The bill doesn't specifically mention same-sex couples but, if it were to made into law, would clearly affect same-sex couples looking to adopt.
"This is Indiana-style legalized discrimination plain and simple," said Equality Florida spokesperson, Carlos Guillermo Smith. "But it's even worse, because this promotes state-sanctioned and taxpayer-funded discrimination. The legislators who voted for this bill know it's as indefensible as it is unnecessary. That's why they blocked an amendment that would have required businesses to state publicly, ‘we don't serve your kind.’ ”
The state previously banned same-sex couples from adopting, but in 2010 a Florida appeals court ruled the ban unconstitutional. Then last month, the GOP-dominated House officially acknowledged that it was unconstitutional, and voted to repeal the ban. But critics of the repeal argued that the lifting of the ban would prompt some adoption agencies to shut their doors rather than comply and allow gay couples to adopt. Broduer is one of those critics.
"They will be, I believe, one day, faced with the choice either to shut down … or do something that violates their religious beliefs," said Rep. Scott Plakon before that vote. "These agencies do a lot of the heavy lifting in our state right now.”
On Thursday Brodeur said if gay couples want to adopt, they can go to the Department of Children and Families or to a private agency. Broduer has argued that his bill would keep many faith-based adoption agencies and churches that organize adoptions from closing their doors and, in essence, start a crisis where children are left without a home.
“This flies in the face of our responsibility to find permanent families and safe, loving homes for every child - including the more than 14,000 children currently in foster care in Florida,” said Ellen Kahn, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Children, Youth and Families Program. “I challenge these legislators to look into the eyes of these kids and tell them they’re going to have to wait years longer for a home because of this action.”