Politics & Government

Kansas bill allowing religious adoption groups to refuse LGBT couples will become law

Kansas representatives Thursday night during a vote on legislation that would allow adoption agencies to refuse placements to LGBT couples based on religious beliefs.
Kansas representatives Thursday night during a vote on legislation that would allow adoption agencies to refuse placements to LGBT couples based on religious beliefs. The Wichita Eagle

A bill that ensures faith-based adoption agencies can turn away gay and lesbian couples based on religious beliefs will be signed into law by Gov. Jeff Colyer.

Kansas lawmakers passed the legislation after an intense debate early Friday. One suggested the need for the legislation proves the existence of the “homosexual agenda,” while another said the bill judges people.

The Senate approved the bill 24-15 at 1:51 a.m. Friday after the House passed it Thursday night, 63-58. The bill had been dormant for weeks before lawmakers revived and passed it in a matter of hours.

“Catholic Charities and other adoption agencies are key to the fabric of our communities. I look forward to signing this bill because it increases the opportunities for needy children to find loving homes,” Colyer said in a statement early Friday.

The adoption bill is among several that states across the nation have passed or are considering. Oklahoma lawmakers approved similar legislation Thursday.

Opponents call the Kansas legislation discriminatory. The bill says the Kansas Department for Children and Families cannot block any foster or adoption agency from participating in its programs solely because it refuses to adopt or place children with LGBT individuals.

Numerous groups and individuals “have all spoken out against this bill because they understand that needless, discriminatory bills only serve to harm Kansans and the reputation of the Sunflower State,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT rights organization.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families has supported the bill, saying it would provide an opportunity for some organizations that have had concerns in the past.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, D-Merriam, said DCF has told him that it has been approached by organizations outside Kansas that would operate in the state if the bill became law. Ousley said DCF didn’t name the organizations.

The bill doesn’t apply to organizations that contract directly with DCF, allowing DCF to prohibit discrimination in placements. Agencies that refuse to place children with LGBT couples can continue to receive reimbursement from the state if they are making placements on behalf of a DCF contractor.

DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel has promised that the agency will not discriminate. In years past, the agency faced allegations that it discriminated against LGBT couples.

Supporters of the bill say organizations can already refuse placements based on religious beliefs. They say the legislation ensures that adoption agencies continue to have that ability.

Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, said the bill doesn’t give adoption and foster agencies any extra rights. The intent is to have as many agencies operating in Kansas as possible, she said.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, said the need for the legislation marked a waypoint in the decline of civilization.

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“’There is no homosexual agenda.’ I was told that…and now we find out there is an agenda. And what was once tolerated is now becoming dominant and is intolerant. Totally intolerant,” Fitzgerald said.

The bill’s passage came after hours of procedural maneuvering as the clock ticked down toward the end of session on Friday. As day turned into night, it became clear the bill would be one of the last major pieces of legislation lawmakers take up before adjourning.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, called the bill the “vampire that just won’t die” and said he worries it 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.

Sen. John Doll, an Independent from Garden City, said it is not the job of lawmakers to judge people.

“This bill, it does that,” Doll said.

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.

But supporters dismissed concerns the bill would harm business in Kansas. They pointed to Virginia, which has had a law in place for years, to show that Kansas won’t face harmful consequences. They say the bill will protect religious-based adoption agencies from restrictions that have been placed on them in other states.

"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.

The Kansas Catholic Conference, the voice of the Kansas Catholic Church on public policy, has urged people to write their representatives in support of the legislation. If they were required to place children with same-sex couples, Catholic Charities in Kansas would likely stop offering adoption services, Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the conference, has said.

Contributing: Katherine Burgess of The Eagle

How they voted

Here’s how south-central Kansas and Kansas City-area House members voted on SB 284, which would allow adoption agencies to refuse placements based on religious beliefs. The bill passed the House 63-58.

South-central Kansas

Republicans voting yes: House: Leo Delperdang, Roger Elliott, Daniel Hawkins, Susan Humphries, Brenda Landwehr, Les Osterman, Chuck Weber, John Whitmer, Wichita; Emil Bergquist, Park City; Doug Blex, Independence; Jesse Burris, Mulvane; Blake Carpenter, Derby; Kyle Hoffman, Coldwater; Steve Huebert, Valley Center; Les Mason, McPherson; Don Schroeder, Hesston; Joe Seiwert, Pretty Prairie; Jack Thimesch, Cunningham; Kristey Williams, Augusta. Senate: Mike Petersen, Gene Suellentrop, Susan Wagle, Wichita; Larry Alley, Winfield; Ed Berger, Hutchinson; Dan Kerschen, Garden Plain; Ty Masterson, Andover; Richard Wilborn, McPherson

Republicans voting no: House: Steven Becker, Buhler; Mary Martha Good, El Dorado; Anita Judd-Jenkins, Arkansas City. Senate: Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick

Democrats voting no: All area Democrats voted no.

Present and passing: Sen. Bruce Givens, R-El Dorado

Kansas City area

Republicans voting yes: House: Tom Cox, Shawnee; Willie Dove, Bonner Springs; Keith Esau, Olathe; Randy Powell, Olathe; Abraham Rafie, Overland Park; John Resman, Olathe; Ron Ryckman, Olathe; William Sutton, Gardner; Sean Tarwater, Stilwell; Frank Trimboli, Olathe. Senate: Molly Baumgardner, Louisburg; Jim Denning, Overland Park; Steve Fitzgerald, Leavenworth; Julia Lynn, Olathe; Robert Olson, Olathe; Mary Pilcher-Cook, Shawnee

Republicans voting no: House: Shelee Brim, Shawnee; Stephanie Clayton, Overland Park; Erin Davis, Olathe; Linda Gallagher, Lenexa; Jan Kessinger, Overland Park; Joy Koesten, Leawood; Patty Markley, Overland Park; Melissa Rooker, Fairway. Senate: Barbara Bollier, Mission Hills; John Skubal, Overland Park; Dinah Sykes, Lenexa

Democrats voting no: All area Democrats voted no, except one who was absent.

Not voting: Scott Schwab, R-Olathe; Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, Kan.

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