A con­tin­ued fight for re­li­gious free­dom?

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Pass­ing a mod­ern­ized adop­tion bill is a top pri­or­ity for the Gen­eral Assem­bly and statewide LGBT ad­vo­cacy group Ge­or­gia Equal­ity in 2018, but a con­tin­ued dis­cus­sion looms over po­ten­tially dis­crim­i­na­tory lan­guage added at the tail end of the 2017 ses­sion.

“I sus­pect that there will still be a lot of dis­cus­sion around that pro­vi­sion,” state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Colum­bus) told Ge­or­gia Voice. “The bill that mod­ern­izes Ge­or­gia’s adop­tion code would be a bill that peo­ple would be pretty anx­ious to get through the process.”

The pro­vi­sion in ques­tion, added by Sen. Wil­liam Ligon (R-Brunswick), would al­low adop­tion agen­cies to refuse po­ten­tial par­ents based on the agency’s mis­sion. Re­ac­tion to the pro­posed amend­ment was swift, with ac­tivists calling it a “li­cense to dis­crim­i­nate.”

“We are very con­cerned about the adop­tion bill that was in­tro­duced last year and it’s ac­tu­ally a good bill that needs to pass, but there was lan­guage added in an amend­ment that would cre­ate a li­cense to dis­crim­i­nate,” said Jeff Gra­ham, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity. “There’s 13,000 kids in the foster care sys­tem in Ge­or­gia who need the leg­is­la­tion that over­sees foster and adop­tive ser­vices to be up­dated.”

McKoon said the crit­i­cism re­gard­ing Ligon’s amend­ment was not war­ranted, and that cov­er­age of the sit­u­a­tion blew it out of pro­por­tion. He be­lieves the Se­nate needed more time to ex­am­ine the bill, say­ing the House had been work­ing on the adop­tion code over­haul for years.

“I do think there’s a dis­cus­sion that needs to be had about whether or not we think faith-based adop­tion agen­cies should be al­lowed to op­er­ate in our state and whether or not the law is go­ing to rec­og­nize that a va­ri­ety of pri­vate adop­tion agen­cies have mis­sions that may run con­trary to some­body’s pref­er­ence,” McKoon said. “I can’t speak for any­body else, but I be­lieve the pub­lic pol­icy of Ge­or­gia ought to max­i­mize the num­ber of providers. So, I am a lit­tle be­fud­dled as to why we would not want our law to be writ­ten in such a way to max­i­mize the num­ber of agen­cies out there. No one in this de­bate … is sug­gest­ing that a fit par­ent should not be al­lowed to adopt a child.”

He be­lieves what was missed in cov­er­age of Ligon’s amend­ment was its in­tent: to make room for more agen­cies, which means more chil­dren are placed.

“Lead­er­ship on both sides of that would like and sup­port a clean bill, so I could def­i­nitely see the adop­tion bill mov­ing next year,” said openly gay state Rep. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville).

State Rep. Renitta Shan­non (D-De­catur), who came out as bi­sex­ual in Oc­to­ber, said it was “heart­break­ing” be­cause some of those chil­dren could have been adopted in 2017 had the bill passed, but were now forced to wait “an en­tire year more.”

Kaleb McMichen, spokesper­son for House Speaker David Ral­ston, told Ge­or­gia Voice that they re­main hope­ful the Se­nate will “act in the best in­ter­ests of chil­dren await­ing adop­tion, and ap­prove that bill early.”

“There was bi­par­ti­san dis­ap­point­ment on Sine Die last year … It was the first time I saw the Speaker get vis­i­bly up­set,” Shan­non said. “There are chil­dren sit­ting in fos- ter care and un­der pro­tec­tive ser­vices and they need to be adopted and go into great homes. For some­one to hi­jack that bill with anti-gay leg­is­la­tion … is just a waste of time and bad for the state.”

“Waste of time” or not, the push for a re­li­gious ex­emp­tions bill is likely to con­tinue once the ses­sion be­gins on Jan. 8 — es­pe­cially now that many Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates in­di­cated their sup­port.

By DAL­LAS ANNE DUN­CAN

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