A Florida Senate bill protecting private faith-based adoption agencies for refusing to place a child with a gay couple hit a delay on Monday. The Senate Rules Committee was discussing the bill but had to adjourn the meeting without voting on the controversial issue.
The bill, HB 7111, is sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur and was referred to the Senate after being passed in the House of Representatives last week. It is being called the “Conscious Protection” bill because it would allow private religious adoption agencies to deny placement with a child because of the agency’s religious or moral beliefs.
The bill will prohibit the Department of Children and Families from removing the agency’s license, withholding government-sponsored funds, and any lawsuits against an agency that refuses to place a child because of written religious doctrine.
There were numerous testimonies during the hour long discussion. Pam Olsen is the Legislative Work Group Chair for the Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council. She spoke on behalf of the council who are a group of religious people tasked with bringing together the government sector with religious constituents regarding child adoption. According to Olsen, the committee believes this bill addresses a pressing issue.
“We discussed this bill at length and voted that our council felt that this was a priority,” Olsen said. “This is a very necessary bill to protect the agencies that do adoption and foster care in our state.”
Olsen feels that religious liberties are at stake and under attack by recent legislation.
Proponents of the bill are worried that without this protection, homosexual adoptive parents can sue on grounds of discrimination. In Illinois and Massachusetts agencies have been shut down because of their refusal to place a child with gay parents.
However there is more at stake than just sexual orientation discrimination. After reading about some adoption cases Sen. Gaetz noted that “some adoption agencies, particularly international agencies, functionally discriminate against interracial adoptions.” Their argument is that they want to “race match” or to “show a preference to a child’s reference group” which Sen. Gaetz called a code word.
Although some speakers in support of the bill dismissed any possibility of an agency racially discriminating in Florida, many of them cited agencies with other “preferences” like religion or marital status.
With the numerous possibilities for prejudice under this law, it is no surprise that those against the conscious protection bill feel it will open up the door for legal discrimination by agencies that are funded by the Florida government.
“Throughout the 120 year history of the National Council of Jewish Women, we have always argued that the needs of the child are paramount, and this must be put first,” Amy Datz, a spokesperson for the National Council of Jewish Women, said. “This bill does not do that, it places the interests of the agency before that of the child.”
Although most college students aren’t looking to adopt a child, the bigger issue of discrimination is an aspect of the discussion all too familiar to the black community.
“I believe that human rights must be respected,” Tatyana Franklin, a senior criminal justice student at Florida A&M University, said. “This is a blatant violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
But as a member of the LGBT community, Franklin feels discrimination is not only religiously rooted but goes back to a belief by some that same-sex couples are not capable of taking care of a child.
After a lengthy discussion, there were still numerous testimonies to be heard. Therefore the meeting was adjourned and postponed until another meeting of the committee can be scheduled.
However, with less than two weeks left in session, this issue gains another level of urgency as many hope for a swift conclusion to this complicated and sensitive issue.