A Kansas law protecting faith-based adoption and foster care agencies is under fire from Gov.-elect Laura Kelly. The law prohibits the state from punishing organizations for placing children according to religious beliefs. The nub of the debate is whether Christian agencies must place children with same-sex couples.
Kelly, a state senator since 2005 and a Democrat, called the law “the adoption discrimination measure” when it passed in the legislature in May. She said her gubernatorial staff will review how far they could go to avoid enforcing the law. The bill faced a tough debate in the legislature before its approval. But contrary to how it has been portrayed, the law does not restrict who can adopt, and many secular agencies serve LGBT couples.
Workers at religious child placement agencies across the country have faced the tough choice between violating their consciences by putting children in the homes of same-sex couples or getting out of the business. Catholic Charities, which places children for fostering and adoption, closed up shop in Boston, Illinois, the District of Columbia and in parts of New York over the issue. In some cases, the state rescinded the agency’s license, while in others, the agency voluntarily closed its doors when the government said it had to work with same-sex couples.
A group of foster parents with Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia sued the city for cutting ties with the agency. A U.S. district judge ruled against the parents, and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case Nov. 6. The Supreme Court denied a request for injunctive relief in the meantime.
While critics of the law say it discriminates against LGBT couples, supporters say the only people potentially facing discrimination are those who run faith-based child placement agencies. And the children who need families stand to lose the most.
Kansas state Rep. Susan Humphries, a Republican who sponsored the original bill in the House, said she proposed it because she saw the problem looming on the horizon. Now, with a new threat rearing its head in the form of an antagonistic governor, Humprhies and her colleagues are already preparing to fight back.
“We believe that there are faith-based agencies in the state that, if they were mandated to place children in homes they don’t think is the best thing, they would close their doors,” Humphries told me.
And she said Kansas needs as many agencies up and running and placing children as possible. Humphries said the state has more than 7,000 children in foster care, a record number for Kansas. If agencies start closing, there is less chance those children will be served.
While debate has swirled around Christian agencies and same-sex couples, the law doesn’t only protect Christians. Humphries said the law would also shield Jewish agencies or Muslim agencies that want to focus on serving Jewish or Muslim families: “That’s going to serve more children.”
Other states have proactively moved to protect faith-based agencies, as well, including Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia. On the federal level, lawmakers tried to pass a budget amendment establishing a religious objection for agencies to place children with certain families, but it was removed before Congress approved the bill in September.