‘Religious freedom’ for adoption discrimination on Georgia Republicans’ to-do list

It sounds like a high priority for this legislative session.

Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has strongly opposed efforts to pass the discriminatory measure. CREDIT: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Disney
Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has strongly opposed efforts to pass the discriminatory measure. CREDIT: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Disney

Republican lawmakers in George made clear last week that they plan to revisit legislation that would allow adoption agencies to cite “religious freedom” as justification for refusing to serve same-sex couples.

Such an amendment derailed comprehensive adoption legislation last year, thanks in part to strong objections from Gov. Nathan Deal (R). Last week, the Georgia Senate passed a version of that adoption bill from which the “religious freedom” amendment had been removed. Its proponents promised, however, that they planned to pursue the discriminatory provision through separate legislation.

State Sen. William Ligon (R), who originally proposed the amendment, pledged that when he revives the bill, “the people of this state will see exactly where their government stands on this issue.” In a statement praising the earlier clean passage of the adoption bill, state Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert also indicated his support for the separate “religious freedom” bill, which he described as “a Senate provision that would have prevented the government from forcing religious adoption agencies to place children in homes contrary to the agencies’ firmly held religious beliefs.”

Last year, South Dakota passed a similar law ensuring that no adoption agency could be penalized for refusing to serve same-sex couples, single parents, or couples who have had premarital sex, even though they are all otherwise eligible to adopt under state law.

A total of six states currently offer such exemptions, and last year, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Michigan’s law. Among the plaintiffs are a lesbian couple who were turned away by two faith-based adoption agencies because of their sexual orientation, leaving them “devastated.”

Even without the “religious liberty” amendment, Deal still has concerns about some other amendments left in the adoption bill that he was prepared to veto last year.

“I commend the Senate for taking action on HB 159,” he tweeted on Thursday. “However, I have serious concerns regarding their version of the bill and am hopeful they will be addressed through the legislative process.”

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, the state’s adoption system is due for a significant overhaul: currently, foster care adoptions take more than twice as long in Georgia (30 months) as in most other states (13 months).