Politics & Government

Lawmakers keep alive bill letting agencies refuse adoptions on religious grounds

House and Senate negotiators meet Thursday over a bill that would allow adoption agencies to refuse placements to LGBT couples.
House and Senate negotiators meet Thursday over a bill that would allow adoption agencies to refuse placements to LGBT couples. The Wichita Eagle

A bill to ensure adoption agencies can refuse placements to gay and lesbian couples based on religious beliefs remains alive as Kansas lawmakers wrap up their work.

“This vampire just won’t die this session,” Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said.

The legislation cleared a key procedural hurdle on Thursday. A 60-58 vote in the House moves lawmakers one step closer to voting on the bill over the objections of Democrats.

The Legislature must end its regular session Friday. That gives supporters of the bill less than 48 hours to pass it.

To opponents, the bill is discriminatory — a measure that would place into law the ability of adoption and foster care agencies to refuse service. And the bill says the Department of Children and Families cannot block any agency from participating in programs solely because it refuses to adopt or place children with LGBT individuals.

“When they start picking and choosing, that’s called discrimination. Simple and easy. Read it in the dictionary," Rep. Cindy Neighbor, D-Shawnee, said.

Supporters say the bill will only protect rights that adoption agencies currently have. The agencies already have the ability to turn away couples on the basis of religious beliefs. They say religious-based adoption agencies have been restricted in other states — something they say they want to avoid.

"We've already heard that there are adoption agencies that have had to close their doors in other states because they're being forced to try to go against their religious doctrine," Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, said.

Several states have passed legislation similar to what is under consideration in Kansas. Virginia has had a law on the books for years. South Dakota approved a bill last year.

Haley worries the bill will contribute to a negative perception of Kansas. Many say the bill is a “regressive, discriminatory” measure, he said. While he said he respects the opinion of those who disagree, he noted that even the perception that the bill is discriminatory could have negative consequences.

A network of companies that includes Apple, Google, Amazon and other tech firms sent a letter to Republican leaders opposing the bill. The letter, sent by the group TechNet, raised concerns the bill will hamper the state’s ability to attract and retain workers.

“I would like to assure you something that is discriminatory is not the intention of this bill,” Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, said.

The bill doesn’t give adoption and foster agencies any extra rights, Humphries said. It only places in law what the agencies are currently doing, she added.

The intention of the legislation is to have as many agencies operating in Kansas as possible, she said.

The Department for Children and Families has supported the legislation for the same reason. The agency has said that the bill would provide an opportunity for some organizations that have had concerns in the past to work with DCF.

DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel has promised that the agency will not discriminate.