The first anti-LGBT state law of 2017 could allow adoption agencies to discriminate

If signed into law, it could be the start of an avalanche.

CREDIT: iStockphoto/wellesenterprises
CREDIT: iStockphoto/wellesenterprises

Many anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country, but one of them is already almost law.

On Thursday, the Republican-controlled South Dakota House passed SB 149, a bill allowing taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to discriminate, by a vote of 43–20–7. Having already passed in the Senate (22–12) last month, it now heads to Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) for his signature.

SB 149 imagines any kind of punishment the government could dish out to a child-placement agency and ensures that such punishments are illegal if they are the result of the agency’s decision about what kind of couples they place children with:

No child-placement agency may be required to provide any service that conflicts with, or provide any service under circumstances that conflict with any sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction of the child-placement agency that shall be contained in a written policy, statement of faith, or other document adhered to by a child-placement agency.

As long as the agency is adhering to its own rules, it cannot be denied funding. That means if it wants to refuse to place children with same-sex couples, single parents, divorced parents, couples who’ve had sex outside of marriage, or whatever other category it can invent, that discrimination won’t interfere with its eligibility for taxpayer subsidies.


The legislation does specify that discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin is not allowed. But everything else is fair game.

The bill is not only a license to discriminate, but in fact an invitation for agencies to adopt religious statements or conscience clauses they didn’t previously have. Section 5 of the bill likewise promises faith-based organizations that they’ll be eligible for state money no matter what discriminatory policies they adopt for child placement:

Any faith-based or religious child-placement agency or organization that seeks to become a child-placement agency is eligible, on the same basis as any other child-placement agency or organization, to receive a license or participate in a state benefit program. The state may not discriminate against a faith-based or religious organization on the basis, wholly or partly, of the organization’s religious character or affiliation.

In addition to LGBT groups, many adoption advocacy organizations have spoken out against the legislation.

After the bill’s passage, Daugaard said that he hadn’t yet made up his mind whether to sign it. However, he only has five days in which he could veto it before it becomes law on its own.


But a veto isn’t inconceivable. In 2016, the South Dakota legislature was similarly first out the gate when it passed a bill requiring discrimination against transgender students. After a massive backlash — and after actually hearing from the transgender students who would be impacted by it — Daugaard ultimately vetoed it. A similar bill has been reintroduced this year.

Freedom for All Americans has tracked dozens of anti-LGBT bills that have been introduced in state legislatures across the country. These bills, like SB 149, almost all allow or mandate discrimination against LGBT people. If South Dakota’s becomes law, it could be the first in a series of dominoes that quickly follows.