A continued fight for religious freedom?
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