In 2010, a Florida state appeals court overturned the state’s 1977 law banning gay men and lesbians from adopting children, infamously passed thanks to the advocacy of Anita Bryant and her Save Our Children campaign. Last month, the Florida House voted 68-50 to repeal the unenforceable statute, making a symbolic commitment to equality by removing it from the books. The focus on same-sex adoption, however, has prompted the introduction of new pro-discrimination legislation, what one lawmaker has called “revenge legislation.”
After that House vote, groups like the Florida Catholic Conference and Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (FERLC) started developing language for an “Adoption Agency Conscience Protection Amendment.” That evolved into a bill that passed out of the House Health and Human Services Committee Thursday (PCB HHSC 15-03), which would allow adoption agencies to discriminate against families based on “religious or moral convictions” and still receive state funding and licensure.
Specifically, the bill creates the following four “conscience” protections for child-placing agencies:
- No private child-placing agency would be required to participate in the placement of a child that would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.”
- Agencies that refuse such placements could not have their licensure from the Department of Children and Families denied or revoked because of that refusal.
- Agencies that refuse such placements could be denied grants, contracts, or participation in government programs because of that refusal.
- Agencies that engage in such refusals would be provided liability protections.
In other words, the bill guarantees that adoption agencies that discriminate can continue to be subsidized by taxpayer funding. Though same-sex couples seem to be the target of the bill, Equality Florida points out that the language is so broad that it could allow families to be excluded for “racial, religious, political, gender, sexual orientation or marital status reasons, among others.” Indeed, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Brodeur (R), confirmed to his fellow lawmakers that the exemption would allow agencies to discriminate against gun owners, same-sex couples, single relatives or other groups.
Brodeur justified his bill by claiming that Catholic Charities “had to stop” providing child-placement services in states like Massachusetts and Illinois after marriage equality became law. In truth, those agencies voluntarily shut down when forced to choose between continuing to discriminate and continuing to receive state funding, prioritizing their prejudice against same-sex couples over serving children with needs. Conservatives in Florida are similarly holding the welfare of children hostage by threatening to shut down if not guaranteed these exemptions. Bill Bunkley of FERLC told lawmakers, “you would have a crisis” if church-affiliated organizations quit providing services.
There are 82 private agencies in Florida that would be impacted by Brodeur’s bill.