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'Conscience Protection' For Adoption Agencies Gets OK


Despite warnings that Florida would follow Indiana into a controversy with statewide economic implications, the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would allow private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

The committee passed the measure (HB 7111) by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, providing what it calls "conscience protection" for private agencies whose "religious or moral convictions" do not permit the children in their care to be adopted by gays or lesbians.

"What we are saying in this bill, very narrowly crafted for the handful of private adoption agencies that have a written moral or religious exemption, is that they cannot have that be a basis for damages or for retribution," Brodeur said.

The proposal surfaced two weeks ago, shortly after the House passed a bill (HB 7013) that would provide incentives for state workers to adopt children from foster care. That measure also repealed part of state law that in the past banned same-sex couples from adopting.

Florida banned gay adoption until five years ago, when an appeals court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. Since then, the state hasn't challenged such adoptions, but the ban has remained in law.

The adoption-incentives bill would change that — and its passage sparked a backlash.

For instance, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said he heard from a faith-based adoption agency that received a request to place a child with a homosexual — its first such request in nine years — within 20 hours of the passage of HB 7013.

"Knowing these people, and knowing they believe in the sanctity of marriage, of one man and one woman, they will be one day faced with a choice," Plakon said. "Either shut down… or do something that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs. I know these people — they will not be able to continue."

Brodeur pointed to Catholic Charities of Boston and San Francisco, which stopped providing adoption services in 2006 rather than comply with state anti-discrimination laws.

He added that the majority of Florida's 82 private adoption agencies allow placements with same-sex couples.

"This does not have any prohibition on whether or not gay couples can adopt in Florida," Brodeur said. "If you are a gay couple, and you would like to adopt, go to one of the majority of those 82 private agencies, go to the state, go to (the Department of Children and Families)."

But Jim Akin, executive director of the Florida chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, pointed to 859 children awaiting adoption statewide.

"Any bill that puts up any barriers, that’s going to decrease the opportunities for these children to be adopted, is bad policy," Akin said.

He added that social workers are bound by an ethical code that prohibits them from practicing discrimination, which could force them to "follow their code of ethics or get another job."

Public comment at the hearing included several families in which same-sex couples have been foster parents or adopted children from foster care. Amanda Williams, a lesbian foster parent from Gainesville, said she and her wife had fostered more than 20 at-risk teens, usually gay and lesbian.

"One of the biggest things that concerns me about this bill is that youth aren't able to pick the agency that represents them," Williams said. She acknowledged that prospective parents can go elsewhere — "but the youth can't."

"This bill will allow state-sanctioned discrimination against gay folks who want to adopt," Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, said. "We should be thanking them and blessing them." If private agencies can't live with allowing gays to adopt, he said, "then get the heck out of that business."

The bill passed 12-3 on a party-line vote. But opponents warned that if it became law, Florida could suffer the same sort of economic boycott now aimed at Indiana over a law allowing businesses to deny services to gays.

"This bill is even worse than Indiana's," said Carlos Guillermo Smith of the pro-gay advocacy group Equality Florida. "This threatens Florida's tourism-based economy."

Even if the House ultimately passes the bill, however, it's unclear whether the Senate would consider it. The Senate does not have a similar bill.

Photo Credit: Take my hand shared by stephanski is licensed under CC BY 2.0