Anti-LGBTQ coalition launches new campaign for adoption discrimination

The effort to chip away at marriage equality is very much underway.

CREDIT: Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images
CREDIT: Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images

A group of anti-LGBTQ organizations, including several that have been labeled as hate groups, has launched a new campaign in favor of allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.

The “Keep Kids First” campaign falsely claims that these faith-based agencies are being targeted to the detriment of the kids they purport to serve.

Not only is the new campaign trying to demonize same-sex parents and normalize taxpayer funding of discrimination, it is also trying to rewrite the history of conflicts between civil rights laws and anti-LGBTQ adoption agencies.

“Organizations like the ACLU are trying to force these providers to go against their beliefs and place kids in homes with couples who are in a same-sex relationship,” the site claims.


The claim is a reference to a lawsuit the ACLU brought on behalf of two same-sex couples challenging Michigan’s “license to discriminate” law that allows agencies to receive state funding even while refusing to place children with LGBTQ families. A federal judge ruled earlier this month that the suit can proceed.

“But eliminating faith-based adoption and foster care providers,” the site counters, “means that fewer children will find a forever home.”

The site also quips, “After all, the only reason to ever shut down an adoption or foster care provider is when every child has found a loving home.” This, however, is a complete distortion of the various conflicts that have played out over the past twelve years and the new fights underway today.

Adoption agencies have repeatedly closed for the sole purpose of refusing to serve same-sex couples; none of them were “forced to shut down,” as the campaign claims.

The first to ever do so, Catholic Charities of Boston, had actually been serving same-sex couples, placing 13 children with such couples in the years immediately after Massachusetts became the first marriage equality state in 2004. But then the bishops in the region got together and decided the agency should be exempt from the state’s nondiscrimination laws, and when that request was denied, they responded by simply shutting down the entire adoption service in 2006.


Catholic Charities elsewhere has acted in the same way. The disingenuousness of this tactic was on grand display in 2012 when Colorado was considering a civil unions bill. Even though that legislation guaranteed exemptions for religious organizations to continue discriminating against same-sex couples, Catholic Charities of Colorado still threatened to shut down if it passed — simply in protest. The joke was on them when a different civil unions bill passed the following year that didn’t afford them the same exemption.

As recently as last month, Catholic Charities of Buffalo began shutting down its foster care and adoption services rather than comply with New York state laws requiring they serve same-sex couples equally. This decision was made over the objections of 95 staffers at the agency, and several members of the organization’s board of trustees have quit in protest.

One of the primary content providers for the Keep Kids First campaign is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has been responsible for drafting, passing, and defending adoption “license to discriminate” bills across the country.

These laws guarantee that religiously affiliated agencies can continue to receive funding from the state’s taxpayers, even when they don’t serve all taxpayers. Kansas and Oklahoma were the latest states to pass such legislation this past May — approving their discriminatory bills within a day of each other.

Congressional Republicans have also advanced an amendment that would have the same effect nationwide. An ADF-created handout on the site claims that these laws are important because they “protect” these agencies from “discrimination based on their religious or moral beliefs.” It suggests that children will benefit from “more providers,” and that likewise they’ll be able to recruit “more families.”


First of all, this suggests that some families won’t consider adopting unless they can work with an anti-LGBTQ agency. Given the very real possibility that any of those children could themselves be LGBTQ — and that family acceptance is the most significant factor for safeguarding their mental health — this does not bode well for their well-being.

It likewise belies that nondiscrimination laws in no way prohibit agencies from operating in accordance with their religious beliefs. It’s simply a question of whether they can use those beliefs to justify their discrimination. Keep Kids First’s claim that LGBTQ equality deprives birth mothers and adoptive families from accessing a “broader diversity of providers” is simply false.

This contradiction is on grand display in the current conflict playing out in the city of Philadelphia. The city suspended the contracts of two different religious agencies after finding evidence that they were refusing to serve same-sex couples, even though those contracts stipulate that they must abide by Philadelphia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

One of the agencies, Bethany Christian Services, simply agreed to stop discriminating and their contract resumed — their religious identity perfectly intact. But Catholic Social Services (CSS) sued, insisting that it had a right to discriminate and making clear that was a higher priority than obeying the law and serving the children. A federal judge ruled against CSS in July, citing ample evidence from the city that ending the relationship with the agency had a negligible impact on finding homes for children.

Underlying the campaign’s “religious freedom” language is an attempt to continue demonizing same-sex couples. The Keep Kids First campaign is necessary, the site claims, “[b]ecause these faith-based adoption and foster care providers believe that every child deserves the chance to be raised by a father and mother.” The claim that same-sex couples make inferior parents has been consistently refuted by research, but it was one of the primary arguments against marriage equality.

Ultimately, all of these attempts to allow state-funded discrimination violate the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling on its face. Obergefell stipulated that same-sex couples must be treated “on the same terms and conditions” as different-sex couples under the law.

In addition to ADF, the Keep Kids First coalition includes the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and its policy arm the Family Policy Alliance, the Heritage Foundation, and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The existence of this campaign confirms that adoption discrimination (along with wedding vendor discrimination) will be one of conservatives’ first big efforts to chip away at marriage equality — in a similar fashion to how they have chipped away at a woman’s right to an abortion. Indeed, it forecasts more “license to discriminate” bills in other states in the coming year as well as a bigger push for such legislation at the federal level.