Weeks after the Florida House passed a bill promoting adoption, the chamber Thursday approved a controversial measure that would allow private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.
The move Thursday came after a conservative backlash about part of the first bill (HB 7013), which primarily involves providing cash incentives to state workers who adopt children in foster care. The backlash focused on a provision that would repeal a decades-old law that banned gay adoption in Florida.
The ban essentially ended in 2010, when an appeals court ruled against it, but it remained in law.
Under fire for the first bill, House Republicans proposed a second measure (HB 7111) offering "conscience protection" to private adoption agencies whose "written religious or moral convictions" prevent them from placing children with same-sex couples.
On Thursday, the "conscience protection" bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) passed 75-38, mostly along party lines. It would protect private adoption agencies from losing their licenses or state funding if they refuse to facilitate adoptions on religious or moral grounds.
Supporters of Brodeur's bill said it's needed for adoption agencies with religious affiliations.
"There is no intent to discriminate," said Rep. Ross Spano (R-Dover), who supported the measure. "We should be encouraging these agencies to perform adoptions, not forcing them to choose. Please don't put them in that position."
Rep. Elizabeth Porter (R-Lake City), who also supported Brodeur's proposal, alluded to the earlier bill that would repeal the law banning gay adoption. The repeal was done through an amendment to that bill, which now awaits a final vote in the Senate.
"We made an amendment to the adoption bill," Porter said to opponents of the "conscience protection" bill. "It's done. You won. But now let the religious entities that provide adoption services have the same access to their freedom as you do to your belief, whatever that may be."
But critics contended that Brodeur's bill would allow discrimination not only against gays but against single, divorced, Jewish and multi-race parents. Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) said he wasn't sure "that there aren't the remnants of homophobia" in Brodeur's measure.
"What is this really about?" Rouson asked. "Is it truly, sincerely held religious beliefs that are about to commit an atrocity? Or is it subterfuge, to create a way that government sanctions and condones continued discrimination against our fellow man?"
However, Brodeur's bill won praise from some faith-based groups. "Today's passage of HB 7111 gives encouragement that the longstanding good work by people of faith to unite children with families through adoption and foster care will continue," said Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement.
But while the "conscience protection" bill easily passed the House, Rep. David Richardson (D-Miami Beach) who is gay, predicted it would fail in the Senate.
"I firmly believe that it's (dead on arrival) there," Richardson, who led opposition to the bill, said after the House adjourned.
The House passed the "conscience protection" bill the day after a similar highly charged debate in the Senate.
Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), proposed an amendment Wednesday to the adoption-subsidies bill that would have kept the ban on gay adoption in state law. It failed on a voice vote, the opposition led by Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville), who is the Senate sponsor of the adoption-subsidies measure.
Gaetz warned that Stargel's amendment could jeopardize the entire adoption-subsidies bill, and the Senate backed him. Now, it's up to Senate leaders to decide whether to give Brodeur's bill a hearing.
"When we allow all of this to play out, and (the adoption-subsidies bill) passes and the other does not, that will send a powerful message," Richardson said.
According to the Department of Children and Families, 673 Florida foster children are available for adoption. Most are hard to place, being older children or having disabilities. Records show most have been waiting for at least three years to be adopted.
© 2015 The News Service of Florida