First day of the 2020 session

The Capitol Building bustles with lawmakers and lobbyists on the first day of the 2020 legislative session in Atlanta on Jan. 13. 

ATLANTA — A new bill would allow adoption agencies to refuse prospective parents on the basis of religious beliefs, concerning advocates that it would lead to LGBTQ couple discrimination.

Senate Bill 368, sponsored by Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, would allow adoption agencies to turn away potential adoptive families and potential child placement based on the agencies “religious or moral convictions.”

The bill would give legal protections to agencies that choose to make such decisions and prohibit state agencies from denying grants or contracts with government programs because of the child agencies.

“This legislation will protect the freedom of choice for the mother in placing her child with an agency that is in line with her culture and values,” Harbin said in a statement. “It will also protect freedom of expression for the agency. And most importantly it will help ensure that as many children as possible find a safe and loving home.”

Rep. Matthew Wilson, one of the five openly LGBTQ members of the legislature, told CNHI he is “disheartened” to have this fight again.

This is discrimination, he said, “plain and simple.”

“It’s an election year in Georgia so unfortunately we are going to see bad bills like this,” he said, “but we’ve increased our LGBTQ representation in the legislature and we are certainly going to be sharing our personal stories, standing up and calling these bills what they are: discrimination.”

Wilson said similar measures that passed in South Carolina opened the door for adoption discrimination against Jewish and Catholic parents.

“This is not just an anti-LGBTQ bill," he said, "this is going to affect a lot more Georgians than just that.”

Jeff Graham, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Georgia Equality, said first and foremost, measures such as this one will keep children from getting out of the foster-care system.

“Anything that happens that can narrow the prospective pool of parents, keeps that system bottled up,” he told CNHI.

Graham also noted concerns that broad language of the bill could lead to discrimination against kids who don’t share the same religious beliefs as the adoption agency.

The stigma this gives the LGBTQ community, he said, “sends a very dangerous message.”

“I think if you ask kids in foster care, what you would hear from them, is they are looking for a loving and stable home,” Graham said. “They don’t care so much about the religious practices, or the sexual orientation or the gender identity or even the age of those prospective parents.”

Georgia Equality in an action notice sent Wednesday to allies said “we’ve stopped bills like this in the past and we’ll do it again.”

During a pre-session conference with reporters, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, expressed his frustration with the religious freedom measure last year stalling adoption reform.

“I thought it was incredibly ill-conceived and offensive that one of the most important pieces of legislation we passed that year got held up in the Senate over that issue,” Ralston said. ”I will advocate very strongly that that not get hung up again.”

Wilson said LGBTQ members of the House are lucky to have Republican LGBTQ allies.

“In the House, we have been very fortunate to have allies in the other party and in particular in the leadership, and with Speaker Ralston,” he said, “who aren’t afraid to stand up to members of their own party and say ‘this is not who we are and this is not who Georgia should be.’”

Georgia lawmakers have announced a number of other legislative measures this session that would target trans youth, including a measure to ban transgender related health care and another to segregate youth sports by biological sex.

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